The 90 Illini #62: James Knight
I spent most of the day yesterday writing a post on Covid-19 which I now refuse to publish. It's so bad. It's not conspiratorial or anything - I didn't go to Mizzou. it's just one long rambling "given what happened to the Marlins, how can college football manage outbreaks, if at all?" post. Had I published it, your reaction would have been "poor guy, clinging to hope when there is no hope".
It's always strange when I do that. I'm a firm believer in "don't publish everything you write". 20% should always be on the cutting room floor. But this one was more than 3,000 words and had been re-written three times. It's hard to spend all day on something and just toss it in the trash. But this morning I'm glad I did.
Back to the 90 Illini, a list counting down to a first game which won't happen because the world is dark and meaningless.
62. James Knight
Uniform number: 10
Year in school: Redshirt Junior (2 years to play 2)
Height: 5'-10" -- Weight: 200 lbs.
Hometown: East St. Louis, Illinois
High School: East St. Louis Senior High School
Best offers: Western Michigan, Illinois
Tom Cruise rating: 2 Cruises
2019 statistics: Missed the entire season with a knee injury.
Knight was a senior breakout player at East St. Louis during their state championship run in 2016. Was somewhat unknown before the season (the year before, ESL only played five games before a teachers strike ended their season) and then was voted the St. Louis Post Dispatch defensive player of the year in 2016 (they pick an offensive and defensive player of the year from the entire St. Louis region). Knight was the anchor to ESL's defense, as you might have seen if you watched the documentary "89 Blocks" about the 2016 East St. Louis Flyers. Knight wasn't chosen as one of the featured players for the doc, but you can see him flying around making plays during the game action. He was voted the Post-Dispatch DPOY and, it's worth noting, was voted to their all-decade team this spring.
Why would a regional POY not have more college interest? Size. He was a fly-around linebacker at East St. Louis (go watch his senior film - it's four minutes of him sticking people), so the issue isn't ability. It's that if you're 5'-10", in college, you're probably going to have to play safety. And then you have to have a certain level of speed.
So he's stuck in tweener land. A player who can really read a play, fly around, and hit people. In Milo Eifler's body, he's a first round pick. Of course, if he had Milo Eifler's body, he'd have chosen between Auburn and LSU in high school.
Path to 2020
Knight played a fair bit on special teams in 2017 as a true freshman. He only played in six games in 2018 with some injury issues (I want to say he missed six weeks in the middle of the season). Then, a knee injury in spring ball (happened 10 feet in front of me at the spring practice which was moved to the indoor facility because of rain that day) cost him the entire 2019 season. So it was 12 games, then 6 games, then 0.
He's one of those forgotten guys who might just sneak up and Caleb Reams you. Meaning, doesn't really play all that much, is completely forgotten, and then, suddenly, like Reams during our four-game winning streak last fall, it seems like he's out there for every play. Look up the term "depth" in the dictionary and the 19th definition is "in college football, it's when you get a bunch of redshirt guys to stick and and stick around and plug every gap when they're 4th and 5th-year players".
Maybe I should put it this way: if there's a program being built (please tell me there's a program being built), we will see a lot of James Knights stepping into bigger roles as redshirt juniors and redshirt seniors. Yes, you need your stars who are headed to the NFL, but you also need depth from guys who might have come in a bit undersized but found a role and maxed it out.
That's the goal for Knight (actually, more like "that's the goal for the coaching staff"). Find a way to use an undersized linebacker who loves to fly around and force fumbles.