UCF Football

Pittsfield’s Jake Hescock caught two passes, one for a touchdown, in UCF’s win over Tulane last Saturday. Hescock is embracing his role as a veteran in the tight end room and on the UCF team.

Jake Hescock’s numbers on the stat sheet might not jump off the page. The senior tight end at Central Florida has a job that goes beyond the numbers.

“I’ve never really been in this position” as a so-called elder statesman, Hescock said. “I actually reached out to [former tight end] Michael Coulbiale for some insight. He told me, ‘I was in this leadership position when we were undefeated two years in a row,’ so he’s never really had to deal with as much of the adversity. He gave me some great pointers, goals to help me along the way, just trying to understand how to lead a room. It’s also holding myself to a different standard, which I haven’t had to do yet in my career. People are looking up to me to see the direction of the room, where are we going and what are we going to do.

“It’s my job to show everybody the direction and make sure that we’re all on the path to success.”

The Knights travel to Texas for a game against American Athletic Conference rival Houston. The game will be on ESPN+ online, and kickoff is set for 2 p.m. Houston is 2-1 and 2-0 in conference play.

UCF is 3-2 overall and 2-2 in the AAC, after the Knights beat Tulane 51-34 Saturday. It was a win that ended a two-game losing streak. Head coach Josh Heupel’s Knights are one loss shy of what was on their record at the end of 2019. Last year UCF went 10-3 and 6-2 in conference play. It had been the first time in three seasons that UCF had lost a game inside the AAC.

That cost the Knights a slot in the AAC championship game. It did earn them a bowl trip and UCF beat Marshall 48-25 in the Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl in Tampa, Fla.

In Monday’ press meeting, Heupel heaped praise on Hescock’s attitude and work ethic.

“I think Jake just bought into the process off the field, as much as anything. How I do anything is how I do everything,” Heupel said to reporters. “He’s grown into the man he’s capable of being, off the field as well. That’s parlayed into him playing at a higher level.”

Speaking to reporters at Monday’s weekly press conference, the former Salisbury School standout was asked about new offensive assistant coaches to the high-powered nature of the UCF offense. The Knights have averaged 45.2 points and 646.8 yards per game in five games. UCF has scored more than 45 points in four of its five games and have cracked the 50-point mark three times. All of those games have been wins.

“I think everybody feels real comfortable” with the offense, Hescock said. “For a lot of the guys, it’s their second or third year under this offense and under this staff Just buying into the whole process, this is a good year if you’re a young guy or if you’re a guy who might need help with the playbook, this is a great year to get. You’re constantly in meetings, more meetings than I think we’ve ever had before. The understanding of the offense and what the coaches want us to get done is pretty straightforward, and that’s even easier for [veterans].

“We have the clear understanding of it, we have trust in it, and now we just have to execute.”

Hescock has started in two of UCF’s first five games, heading into Saturday’s game against Houston. The other three games, he did not start because Heupel elected to go with more wide receivers and wideout Ryan O’Keefe started. It was a strategic move because O’Keefe is 5-foot-10, 175 pounds, while Hescock is 6-7, 252.

Heupel, in his second season as the UCF head coach, was asked about Hescock specifically at the press conference.

“For us to use him down the field in the pass game. He caught a couple of passes this past week, one for a touchdown,” the coach said. “I think he’s grown as a complete player. [Tight ends coach Alex] Golesh coming in, I think he’s gotten in the details on route running, coverage recognition and trying to put himself in the right place with the quarterback to catch the ball. He does have good hands, he always has. He’s worked to improve in that area too.”

Sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel doesn’t throw the ball much to his tight ends, as the UCF offense has primarily been a wide receiver-first unit. Gabriel has completed 148-of-228 passes. He averages 435.6 yards per game, and has thrown 19 touchdowns to only two interceptions.

Gabriel said he is more comfortable this year than he was as a true freshman in the starting lineup a year ago.

“I think there’s always something to improve on,” the Hawaii native said. “For the most part, numbers have never been our motto at all. It’s what happens when you put winning first, and that’s always going to be our main goal.”

For his part, while the numbers might not show it, Hescock said he believes that he — and the other tight ends — have made a lot of progress from Day 1.

“I think most of the progress has come in practice, just trying to get comfortable myself,” he said, “running the routes, catching it and having Dillon be comfortable throwing it to me and knowing I’m going to get the job done. That’s just the base thing right now, working on the trust.”

Gabriel said that every skill position player on the UCF offense is capable of putting up numbers and making plays. He said that includes Hescock, a player he has grown close to both on and off the field.

“We didn’t catch anything, but we did go fishing together,” Gabriel said. “He’s my really close friend on and off the field. But on the field, he’s performing at a super-high level. It just shows from year one, to where he’s at now.”

Hescock made his appearance before the reporters after Gabriel, and he wanted to make one thing perfectly clear.

“I just want to clear something up. It definitely wasn’t me who took him and didn’t catch anything,” Hescock said with a laugh. “Because, I would have made sure we caught something.”

Howard Herman can be reached at hherman@berkshireeagle.com or 413-496-6253.

Sportswriter-Columnist

Howard Herman is a sports columnist at The Berkshire Eagle. The dean of full-time sportswriters in Western Mass., he has been with the Eagle since 1988, and is a member of the New England Baseball and Basketball Hall of Fame.