(AP) — There was only one person more excited than UCF sophomore quarterback Justin Holman about his three-touchdown performance in nearly leading the Knights to a comeback in their 26-24 loss to Penn State: His mom.
"She was excited to see her baby boy in the game," Holman recalled about their phone call shortly after he returned from Ireland. "But I just told her to stay relaxed. It's only one game. It's a long season."
It's also a new season of sorts for Holman, who was named the starter for UCF's visit Saturday to No. 20 Missouri.
Originally beaten out for the starting job by freshman Pete DiNovo, Holman's rallying efforts against the Nittany Lions — which included a touchdown run to put the Knights ahead in the final two minutes — were enough to make the coaching staff reconsider the original choice.
In his first meeting with reporters since getting the nod, Holman said Tuesday that he never allowed his original disappointment to define him coming out of the preseason.
"You can't really take it personal. But I always take things as a challenge. I challenge myself every day and I just had to push a little bit harder," he said. "I respected the decision (to name DiNovo the starter) 100 percent. Coach made the right decision going into the season. I just had to look at myself, regroup, and keep working."
Coming out of the spring, Holman appeared to be the likely front-runner to replace Blake Bortles, who is now in the NFL. But inconsistency in throwing the ball and running the huddle in preseason practice opened the door for DiNovo. He impressed enough to get the job for the opener.
But DiNovo's accuracy disappeared in the first half against Penn State (he was just 3 of 8 for 18 yards), prompting coach George O'Leary to go with Holman early in the second half.
Holman promptly threw for one touchdown and ran for two more, completing 9 of 14 passes for 204 yards along the way. More than that, though, Holman's prior timidity in the huddle was gone.
O'Leary said he hopes that demeanor carries over into Holman's first career start.
"He needs to just be himself," O'Leary said. "I think the game plan's in place. I think he just needs to go out and execute it. And that's about as much pressure. The only pressure he's gonna get is what he puts on himself."
Holman will also have the benefit of a full complement of receivers with senior Rannell Hall expected to play after missing the opener with an elbow injury.
Receiver Josh Reese said nothing has changed about Holman's approach since his promotion.
"Same Justin," Reese said. "When they (named) Pete the first string, Justin kept working. He didn't do anything different. (He's) in the weight room. Still watches film — everything's been the same. Now that he's the starter, everything's been the same. He hasn't changed at all."
Holman acknowledged that his confidence will be a little higher as the starter this week, "knowing that you kind of don't have to look over your shoulder."
That said, he's not expecting to change much this week against the Tigers.
"Just go in there and be yourself. Don't try to press to be a guy that you're not," Holman said. "The guys will notice how genuine you are about your effort and what you want to get done. They'll rally around that."
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