UCF played its first game on September 22, 1979 against Saint Leo University. The Knights would prove victorious with a 21–0 shutout, and less than a week later, the Knights would win their first home game by defeating Ft. Benning, 7–6. Jonas led the Knights to a 6–2 inaugural season, behind an average attendance of 11,240, including a Division III record crowd of 14,138.
The humble beginnings for the Knights football team were exemplified during their inaugural season. The team had no locker room, the coaching staff was composed of volunteers, players were asked to bring their own cleats, and all equipment and supplies were donated. Practices took place on a driving range, and players had to go to a classroom building on campus to find showers. Head coach Don Jonas famously offered to take the position for no salary.