UCF football loses 10 players who opted out due to COVID-19

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ORLANDO, Fla. — UCF coach Josh Heupel announced Tuesday 10 players have opted out of the 2020 season due to concerns about COVID-19.

Redshirt senior defensive back Tay Gowan, redshirt junior defensive lineman Khalia Davis and redshirt junior quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. are among the group that has filed paperwork with the school to skip the 2020 season.

Other players who have chosen to opt out include defensive lineman Mason Cholewa; cornerback Devunte Dawson; offensive linemen Allan Adams; Lamarius Benson and Adrian Medley; defensive back Elijah Benoit; and defensive lineman Kendrick Wilson.

“Everybody’s perspective and situation with COVID-19 is different and there all valid and real,” Heupel said.

He added, “We’ve tried to educate our guys continuously as to what the practices are. Educate them as to what we’re doing here to keep them as safe as possible. Each of these kids who chose to opt out have different reasons behind their decisions. They’re valid, they’re real and we support those guys and we’ll continue to help them.”

Gowan, who transferred into the program in 2018, had 31 tackles, two interceptions and eight passes broken up in 13 games for the Knights last season. He moved to cornerback after Brandon Moore went down with an ACL injury in the second half of the 2019 season opener against Florida A&M on Aug. 29.

Davis recorded 27 tackles including 8.0 tackles for loss while playing in all 13 games on the defensive line for the Knights, including starting the last nine games of the 2019 season.

Mack has been the primary backup at quarterback, appearing in 19 games including three starts in 2018. He led UCF to wins over East Carolina and Memphis in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game where he earned MVP honors. Mack also started the team’s game against LSU in the 2019 Fiesta Bowl.

“I understand DJ’s situation and why he made the decision that he has,” Heupel said.

Redshirt sophomore Quadry Jones, who briefly transferred to Alabama State before reversing course and returning to UCF earlier this year, assumes a bigger role with Mack sitting out.

“Quadry, since he’s gotten back, has done a phenomenal job and is competing his butt off,” Heupel said of Jones, who has appeared in four games during his career. “While DJ (Mack) was here in training camp, Quadry was getting equal reps with DJ and was playing really well.”

Cholewa, a redshirt junior, appeared in 20 games for the Knights on the defensive front.

A number of players across the country have made the decision to opt out this upcoming season due to coronavirus safety concerns, while others are choosing to get a head start on preparations for the 2021 NFL draft.

The NCAA waived eligibility rules that give athletes five years to play four seasons and players have the option to return in 2021. Davis posted on social media he plans to remain a Knight.

When asked how the players took the news about their teammates’ choices to leave the program, Heupel said they ultimately understood the decision.

“All the guys that are here with us now playing and preparing, they had questions about what it was going to look like and how are we going to continue to keep them as safe as possible,” Heupel said. “They understand the concerns from their teammates and have been very supportive of those guys.”

No. 21 UCF is set to kick off the season in Atlanta against Georgia Tech on Sept. 19.

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©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)