UCF Grad’s Life With Knightro

Michael Callahan ’05 ‘09MBA ‘17EdD , center, has served as Knightro’s head coach for more than a decade (photo courtesy of Chris Schubert ’92)

By Jenna Marina Lee

ORLANDO, Fla. (Dec. 14, 2017) – When Michael Callahan ’05 ’09MBA ’17EdD graduates this weekend with his third degree from UCF – a doctorate in higher educational leadership – those in the audience at CFE Arena likely won’t notice any difference between him and the others receiving their diplomas.

And that’s exactly what he has been accustomed to in his double life as Knightro’s head coach and a former mascot.

“You walk out of the tunnel on game day, and people are screaming Knightro. I walk into a building and people ignore me. It’s night and day difference,” Callahan said. “When you get that much attention, I have seen through this program that one individual has the ability to make change if they want to.”

Before his senior year of high school, the Massachusetts native was visiting his grandmother in Leesburg, and she encouraged him to visit “this college that’s in the newspaper.” After touring UCF and learning more about its affordability and academic programs, Callahan knew he had found his school.

His decision led to one of the longest relationships of his life: Knightro.

After seeing the beloved mascot perform at some football games, Callahan thought it looked like a fun job and tried out for the team in the spring. He said he made the cut not because he had the best skillset, but because the coach believed in his dedication.

“He saw something in me from a work ethic standpoint that he just couldn’t turn me away,” Callahan said. “That changed my life for the future.”

Michael Callahan as Knightro in his undergraduate days

Now he’s the one in charge of selecting the talent and team that brings Knightro to life.

He has had to juggle his career as the director of information systems with the Burnett Honors College; his personal life as a husband and father of three (including 3-year-old twins!); and years of classes and coursework in his pursuit of master’s and doctoral degrees.

But he’s been showing up every day, without fail, for the last 12 years – ever since UCF’s spirit program head coach Linda Gooch ’85 asked him to come say a few inspirational words to the team and offer some advice. When he showed up to practice, she introduced him to the group as Knightro’s new head coach.

“That’s when it hit me, ‘Huh, I’ve taken on a coaching responsibility,’” he said.

Gooch laughed playfully: “I have my ways.”

In her defense, she knew he was the man for the job. Gooch said one of the most challenging aspects of serving as Knightro’s head coach is finding the right team of student performers.

“The interesting thing about selecting a mascot is if you were in a room with them, you might pick out the guy who is the cut up or who seems really funny. But a lot of these kids are reserved and quiet in person. And then you put that head on them, and they transform. He’s able to see those qualities that we need,” she said. “His true gift is empowering the people who are part of the program to be able to work together as a team. It is truly a labor of love for him, no question about it.”

Their weekly routine consists of two practices a week. They work on skits for game day and practice flag waving, his walk and his signature. They discuss scheduling for the most popular guy on campus. And over the years, they’ve had to implement social media strategies or learn the latest dance crazes.

On game days, in addition to critiquing the student’s performances, Callahan is in charge of maintaining Knightro’s minute-by-minute schedule from tailgate appearances to his on-field antics.

“During tryouts, the first thing I preface to everyone, when you think about it logically with other sports it makes sense: the football team plays for three hours on Saturday, but how much time do they spend in the weight room and practice and video and everything else?” he said. “This is no different than any other sport. You have meetings. You have to do costume repair and practice and planning. You will spend more time outside of costume to get ready for that one-hour event or game day.”

While it is exciting to be part of the game day atmosphere and athletics’ daily life, Callahan said his favorite aspect of the job has always been the community involvement.

Gooch recalled that when he was a student, Callahan made a personal goal to log 100 events in the community in one year in addition to his responsibilities and duties at athletic events.

“When you think about it, you’re basically doing an event every three days,” she said. “He was an awesome guy. So dedicated and really helped us to develop the program as a mascot himself.”

His longstanding history of love and commitment to Knightro has even resulted in a children’s book called “Hello, Knightro!” which was published in 2013. Callahan credits his wife, fellow alumna Lauren, for making the book a reality.

Michael and his wife, Lauren, wrote the children’s book “Hello, Knightro!”

“Everybody who is a UCF fan that sees it thinks it’s the coolest thing out there. It’s a good feeling to know you’re touching people in the community and making a positive change. Hopefully in a few years the children who grew up reading the book will want to come here,” he said.

Perhaps some future Knightros will be among those children. For Callahan, that’s what it all comes back to – the students.

“Working with all the students is a great reward, and I’m only able to do it because of what UCF has done for me,” Callahan said. “It’s my way of saying thank you.”

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Oct. 23

Tailgate hosted by UCF Alumni chapters from Washington D.C., New York, Boston and Baltimore

1. The UCF football team celebrated Knightro’s 23rd birthday with a win at Navy over the weekend in front of a whole bunch of traveling UCF fans to improve to 6-0 on the season and move up to No. 17 in the national polls. Starting at 7 a.m. Monday, UCF Athletics is offering a flash sale of $17 tickets for 17 hours for the Knights’ home matchup against Austin Peay on Saturday.

P.S. Since the Knights picked up their sixth win of the season, the team is officially bowl eligible. We’ll high five to that!

2. UCF can clinch its first American Athletic Conference championship title of 2017-18 on Friday. The No. 7 UCF women’s soccer team hosts USF at 7 p.m. As if the regular season trophy and a showdown with their rival weren’t enough motivation, the Knights can also earn the right to host The American Women’s Soccer Championship from Nov. 1-5.

So, who will be in the stands with us Friday at the UCF Soccer Complex?

3. UCF President John C. Hitt held his annual State of the University address last week. Throughout his remarks, Hitt discussed how scale, multiplied with excellence, maximizes UCF’s impact on students and the community. He also reviewed UCF’s big achievements from the past year.

4. For the third consecutive year, UCF has produced more graduates who get hired by aerospace and defense companies than any other university in the nation. With more than 10,000 students, the College of Engineering and Computer Science is among the nation’s top producers of those in the respective fields.

5. The City of Orlando has chosen UCF alumna, former UCF instructor and Orlando native Susan Lilley ’75 ’80MA as its first poet laureate. A poet laureate is considered the official storyteller of the city, and in her role, Lilley will perform at city events and give presentations to local students throughout her term. Read more about her in this story from the Orlando Sentinel.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Feb. 13

 

Comedy Central

1. UCF is all about helping out the procrastinators in need of Valentine’s Day date ideas. The UCF Theater Department will be featuring William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet from Feb. 16-26. Tickets are $20 or $10 with a UCF ID. You can purchase them online or by calling the box office at 407-823-1500. The men’s basketball team will square off against Tulsa on Feb. 14 and is offering a special Valentine’s Date Night package. For $40 receive two tickets to the game as well as one Cupid-inspired Knightro Bobblehead.

2. CFE Arena announced Monday that UCF alumnus Daniel Tosh ’96 will return to campus April 25 for a standup comedy show featuring writers and comedians from his Comedy Central hit “Tosh.0.” Tickets go on sale Feb. 17.

3. Opening Night for UCF Baseball will be held Friday, and best of all – IT’S FREE! The Knights are beginning a new era under first-year head coach Greg Lovelady. First pitch against Siena is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Before you head to the field, learn more about the John Euliano Park Expansion.

4. Late last week, the 2017 UCF Football schedule was unveiled. It includes a record four September home games, 11 Saturday kickoffs and a Black Friday War On I-4 showdown with rival USF. Start making your tailgate plans and purchase season tickets now. Pro tip: Renew your season tickets before March 1 and swing yourself some cool prizes.

5. Calling Knights in Georgia! IGNITE: Atlanta will take place Thursday from 6-8 p.m. at the Intercontinental Buckhead Atlanta. Space is limited but there is still time to reserve your spot. The event is free. Click here to RSVP.

P.S. UCF Alumni has enjoyed hearing so many stories from the heart from Knights over the last week as we gear up for Valentine’s Day. Tell your #UCFLoveStory and check out other posts on our Facebook.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Dec. 5

1. Get ready for #Bowlando! The UCF football team will play Sun Belt champion Arkansas State in the AutoNation Cure Bowl on Dec. 17 at 5:30 p.m. at Camping World Stadium in Orlando. Tickets are as affordable as $25 on ucfknights.com. We cannot stress buying through UCF enough: in doing so, you’re directly supporting the Knights financially.

Fun fact: In NCAA history, there have been seven FBS teams to go winless and then appear in a bowl game the very next season. UCF is now the eighth, accomplishing the feat for the second time in program history.

While at the bowl game, you’ll get to see UCF linebacker and American Athletic Conference Defensive Player of the Year Shaquem Griffin in action. Griffin was recognized by the conference with the honor on Nov. 30 and featured on ESPN again for his sensational season. This comes one month after a special segment aired on ESPN’s College GameDay.

2. The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center is the epi-center of graduation preparation as the fall 2016 soon-to-be grads pick up their cap and gowns this week. Commencement is always a wonderful reminder of Knight Pride, so UCF Alumni created special Facebook cover photos for each grad year since UCF’s first – 1970. Find your class and feel free to add a little black-and-gold to your profile. And if you’re a fall 2016 grad, UCF Alumni encourages you to check out the details for the #MyUCFMemory contest as well as our graduation central page.

3. Thank you to all AlumKnights and friends who made #GivingTuesday a rousing success! In support of the global day of giving, a record 260 donors from 16 states made gifts totaling $33,597. More than $10,000 was designated to first-generation scholarships. At UCF, one in four students are the first in their family to attend college.

4. The power of positivity continues to stem from Limbitless Solutions, UCF’s student group that creates 3-D printed bionic arms for children and donates them to families at no cost. Last week, the UCF Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make Limbitless Solutions the university’s newest direct support organization, meaning it will be a nonprofit entity formally affiliated with the university. Although Limbitless has used UCF lab space and worked closely with some faculty members, the group previously has operated as an independent nonprofit group. That same day, it was announced that a video game collaboration from Limbitless and UCF’s School of Visual Arts & Design won the Best Serious Game Innovation award at the Serious Games Showcase & Challenge.

5. The UCF men’s and women’s basketball teams are a combined 13-3 in their first month of the new season. Even better, they are helping out people in need to brighten up the holidays, and you can get your hands on a December Knightro Bobblehead by joining the cause. knightro-santa

toy-drive

Junior guard Aliyah Gregory started a toy drive last year to benefit The Spring of Tampa, a domestic violence shelter in her hometown. The cause is important to Gregory because her aunt died as a result of domestic violence in 2011. [Read more of that story here.] On Sunday, the women’s team encouraged fans to bring a toy to the game – and did they deliver!

Toys will be collected again on Dec. 10 at the men’s game against Maryland Eastern Shore. The first 100 fans who bring a toy for the 5 p.m. tipoff will receive the surfing Santa Knightro Bobblehead.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Nov. 7

college-of-med-fireworks

 

1. The College of Medicine’s 10-year anniversary was one for the books. Missed the celebration? Check out the Facebook gallery. And now a word from Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and founding dean of the medical school:

“After a decade together, I am still continually amazed by what we can achieve when we work together. Ten years ago, President Hitt’s vision was of a medical school that would serve our Central Florida community by offering the very best in medical education, research and patient care. Today that dream has become a reality.”

2. Thanks to a solid defensive effort – no kidding, UCF safety Drico Johnson outscored Tulane himself – UCF Football nabbed a 37-6 win on Saturday to kick off its three-game homestand. The UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate helped get gameday started (Photos: Indoor Tailgate | Game ), and this Saturday, you can do it all again. FAIRWINDS Alumni Center will open its doors at 9 a.m. for the noon kickoff against Cincinnati on ESPNU. #UCFansWear gold to the game. Out-of-towners, need a watch party?


3. In a salute to Veterans Day Weekend, UCF Football’s game Saturday is Military Appreciation Day. Military, veterans and first responders receive free entry to the game. Those looking to secure tickets are encouraged to do so ahead of Saturday by registering here. They will also be eligible to purchase tickets at a discounted rate for friends and family attending the game with them.

4. We’ve got three words for ya: Light Up UCF. It’s bigger and better than ever in its ninth year. The festivities begin Nov. 18 with a new light show featuring more than 30,000 lights and music. The nightly activities run through Jan. 7. More details.

5. Just in time for Election Day, Knightro’s latest bobblehead has been revealed, and he pulls off red, white and blue just as well as black and gold. One guaranteed way to get your hands on “Knightro For President” is to purchase men’s basketball season tickets. Speaking of basketball, heads up: the women’s team holds its home opener this Sunday at 2 p.m. and the men will tip off at CFE Arena a day later (Nov. 14) at 7 p.m.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Oct 24

hitt-ignite

    1. It started with spark in Orlando, but on Friday, Oct. 28, we’re taking IGNITE: The Campaign for UCF on the road. Our first stop? HOUSTON – and just in time for the UCF vs. Houston Football game. AlumKnights and friends of UCF are invited to join us for a special conversation with President Hitt. To learn more info on how you can be there for the start of the next great chapter in UCF’s history, click here.
    2. Knightro turned 22 on Oct. 18 and partied with a cute pup. It was awesome.

3. Three cheers for UCF Athletics, who had a BIG weekend. Before Football stole another road conference win, this time at UConn, linebacker Shaquem Griffin was featured on ESPN’s College GameDay.

Men’s Soccer also tamed the Huskies, who were ranked 24th in the nation, with a 2-1 win in overtime Saturday. The drama continued into Sunday when women’s soccer pulled out a double-overtime win on Senior Day over East Carolina. #ChargeOn

4. Knights Wake, UCF’s club wakeboarding team, recently won its third national championship in four years. Even sweeter…they did it by defeating USF at Quest ATX Cable Park in Austin, Texas. This is the third time this year the UCF Recreation and Wellness Center is celebrating a club team national championship. UCF has now won 14 club national championships since 2004. Charge On!

5. The fall issue of Pegasus is out today! Check out this story on alumna Cyndia Morales Muñiz ’13EdD, which is featured in the magazine. And if you’re looking for even more reading material on your lunch break this week, we’ve got you covered:
• The first scholarship from the Steven Sotloff Memorial Fund was given to journalism senior Adam Manno, who wants to shed light on important stories “like Steven did.”
• A love of chemistry bonded a two-time alumna and the recipient of her scholarship at the pair’s first meeting.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know this Week—Sept. 12, 2016

osisirex-launch

1. To Bennu and back! On Friday, the OSIRIS-REx launch could be seen from UCF’s campus — home of physics professor Humberto Campins and associate professor Yan Fernandez, who will have an active role in analyzing data of the seven-year mission. OSIRIS-REx is bound for Bennu and is scheduled to encounter the mountain-sized asteroid in 2018. It’s NASA’s first mission to return a sample of an asteroid to Earth. A successful mission will provide scientists enough material from the asteroid’s surface to better understand how planets formed and how life began in the solar system.

2. UCF Football is hosting Family Weekend at 7 p.m. on Sept. 17 against Maryland, one week after playing in front of the largest crowd in program history (109,295) at Michigan’s Big House. Saturday’s Indoor Tailgate will start at 4 p.m. and is free for all UCF alumni and their guests.

3. Everyone’s favorite bobbleheads have returned! The Knightro Bobblehead Series kicked off for the 2016-17 season with a football-themed Knightro donning a black uniform. There are several ways to start collecting the new set – those details can be found here.

4. The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center hosted a GoBabyGo car-building event for 10 toddlers late last week. GoBabyGo is a national effort to provide children without the ability to walk, a way to get around. The organization retrofits motorized toy cars for children with special needs. Dozens of volunteers, including UCF alumni, helped at the event and capped the day by cheering on the child drivers in a race on Memory Mall.

5. Courtney Paulson, an alumna of UCF and The Burnett Honors College, will look to defend her title on “Jeopardy!” tonight, Sept. 12. The 2011 graduate won the quiz show at the end of its season on July 29 with a total prize of $11,700. Tune in locally on WFTV Channel 9 at 7 p.m. Good luck, Courtney!

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Feb. 1, 2016

baby-race

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. Taking any UCF classes this fall? Want some free money? Apply for one of our many alumni scholarships! (Scroll to the bottom of the page for application instructions.)
  2. February is Matching Gift Month, which means your monetary donations may be worth double if your employer participates in the matching gift program. While we hope UCF is tops on your list of giving priorities, we encourage you to give to whichever organizations mean the most to you!
  3. The UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center is taking part in a Green Office Certification pilot program, also known as the “GreenUP UCF” campaign. Over the next year, our staff will be making changes to help our building become a more sustainable part of our beautiful campus.
  4. Looking for something to do this weekend? If you’re in the Titusville area on Saturday, join our Space Coast UCF Alumni Chapter as they cheer on Knightro in the Mascot Marathon! Or, if you’re out and about in Orlando on Saturday, support our student-athletes at the UCF Baseball FanFest prior to the Knights’ basketball game against Temple (where you can enter your little one in the Second Annual UCF Baby Race during halftime)!
  5. Join the College of Sciences on Feb. 10, as it hosts its next Distinguished Speaker Series. This month’s topic is “Understanding Violence against Women in Rural Communities,” presented by Walter DeKeseredy, professor of sociology at the University of West Virginia.

Five Things Alumni Need to Know — Aug. 31, 2015

homecoming-reveal-2015
UCF’s 2015 Homecoming theme, “Knights Come Together,” was revealed Wednesday in the Student Union.

Here are five things you should know this week:

  1. The UCF Alumni Association’s partnership with UCF Career Services has been a success over the past year, with more than 600 alumni receiving individual career counseling, and 450 more impacted by workshops and outreach.
  2. Before our Knights take on the FIU Golden Panthers Thursday, we’ll kick off the 2015-16 football season with our annual UCF Alumni Indoor Tailgate, from 3-5 p.m., at the UCF FAIRWINDS Alumni Center. Don’t miss it!
  3. Six new UCF students started classes this semester as part of the university’s first inclusive education program for individuals with intellectual disabilities.
  4. For the second year in a row, UCF ranked in The Princeton Review’s top 10 for best health services in the nation, coming in at No. 6 this year.
  5. On Wednesday, the Office of Student Involvement revealed this year’s Homecoming theme: “Knights Come Together.” The theme will be incorporated throughout all of the week-long events.