Two years ago, UCF quarterback Jeff Godfrey stood on the sidelines at Bright House Networks Stadium and watched as the spotlight he had been groomed for since age 6 began to fade away.
“I got benched against UTEP the last game of sophomore year, and I didn’t know why,” said Godfrey, who chose UCF for the opportunity to play quarterback. “I had so many things swirling through my head and I felt so lost. In a flash, it seemed like everything that I'd worked for my whole life was gone. It was kind of like being in the middle of a movie.”
Just 11 months before being replaced by Blake Bortles, Godfrey had completed an impressive true freshman season, leading the 2010 Knights to an 11-3 season, a Conference USA Championship and the first bowl victory in school history, all before his 19th birthday.
“Growing up, Jeff was the man in Miami. Everybody in town knew he was special very early on,” said Luther "Uncle Luke" Campbell, who coached Godfrey throughout his childhood. “He excelled in Pop Warner, high school, and he immediately stepped in at UCF and led them to a championship. It really seemed like Jeff was fulfilling his destiny.”
Lauded for his ability to improvise under pressure, Godfrey amassed 2,159 yards passing, 566 rushing yards and 23 total touchdowns in 2010, earning Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors. But as the Miami native approached his second season under center, life off the field took a negative turn.
“At that time, I was making a lot of bad decisions,” said Godfrey, the first true freshman quarterback in FBS history to lead his team to victory in a conference championship game. “My mind was all over the place, and I had a lot of people in my ear telling me different things.”
An offseason arrest, a decrease in on-field production and academic issues headlined his sophomore season. Godfrey’s life seemed to be spiraling out of control.
“Jeff has never been a bad kid, but he had a lot of people around him that didn’t have his best interests in mind,” said UCF assistant coach Sean Beckton. “At that time in his life, he was really confused and seeking advice from some of the wrong people.”
Encouraged by those around him, Godfrey, the player once thought to be the future of UCF football, asked for a release from his scholarship and returned home to South Florida.
“That time in Jeff’s life was really tough,” said Campbell, a longtime friend of Godfrey’s father. “When everything happened, Jeff’s dad and I were more upset than he was, because we felt like he was being mistreated.”
Facing an uncertain future, Godfrey consulted those closest to him for guidance.
“I sat down with my mom and grandmother, and they told me that I needed to go back to UCF,” Godfrey said. “They told me that they didn’t raise a quitter, and that I shouldn’t give up on my team just because things were tough. For me, that was a very humbling experience.”
After a semester away from UCF, Godfrey rejoined the Knights for his junior year, a reunion that came with conditions.
“Jeff drove up from Miami, on his own, and apologized to Coach [George] O’Leary, the staff and the players,” Beckton said. “It wasn’t a situation where we just welcomed him back with open arms. It was a process, but the coaches and players voted on it and decided to give him a second chance.
“He is a very prideful young man. For Jeff to come back and make things right says him a lot about him and his maturation as a person. We told him that if he came back, he’d have to play wideout ,and Jeff told us he was willing to do anything to help the team.”
Since switching to wide receiver last season, Godfrey has 69 receptions for 673 yards and seven scores, including a game-winning touchdown grab to take down No. 8 Louisville on Oct. 18.
“Blake and I have a really close connection now. He knows what I’m thinking, and I know what he’s thinking without saying a thing,” Godfrey said of his relationship with the player who replaced him at quarterback. “The Louisville touchdown was pretty special for us. It’s funny because the play didn’t work out how it was planned. But, in the end, we adjusted and it helped the team win.”
As for Godfrey’s future, the senior doesn’t seem satisfied with a Hollywood ending, but rather is focused on moving forward.
“I am so thankful that Coach O’Leary and the team gave me another chance. When I came in as a freshman, I really enjoyed all of the attention and people patting me on the back,” Godfrey said. “Over the years, I’ve learned how to handle all of the outside influences and stay focused on what really matters, and that’s doing what it takes to win.
“In the big picture, coming back and moving to wide receiver has turned out to be the best thing for me, and we really have a good thing going this year. I just thank God every day that I got a second shot to play a part.”