U's McKnight brings hoops skills to football

  • Article by: MYRON P. MEDCALF , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 26, 2011 - 12:53 AM

Da'Jon McKnight was chasing hoop dreams in high school before some football coaches made him an offer he couldn't refuse. And now, he's glad he switched.

hide

Gophers wide receiver Da'Jon McKnight (6) wanted to be the next Michael Jordan in a Dallas high school, but football coaches convinced him to return to their sport.

Photo: Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

What might be considered borderline blackmail started Da'Jon McKnight's permanent transition from basketball to football during his senior year in high school.

After McKnight received an in-school suspension for clowning in class, the then-senior worried that news of his troubles would reach the basketball staff at Skyline High School in Dallas.

No need to worry, school football coaches who supervised the detention told McKnight. They promised to keep quiet if McKnight promised to attend the next football practice. McKnight agreed to show up, nothing more.

"My head coach, Coach [Reginald] Samples, he had my jersey, my shoulder pads, my helmet and some new gloves waiting for me, all ready to go to practice," said McKnight, a Gophers senior. "I practiced for a little bit. I got the groove back."

Gophers cornerback Troy Stoudermire, who played with McKnight at Skyline, said McKnight didn't know how bad coaches wanted to bring McKnight back to football, a sport he'd last played as a freshman.

"Once he put on the cleats, he was in trouble," Stoudermire said. "Coach got him out there. He was running routes and catching balls."

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Gophers, who employ one of the Big Ten's most inexperienced receiving corps, need McKnight -- who's on the 2011 Biletnikoff Award watch list -- to consistently produce. Last year, he led the Gophers with 48 catches for 750 receiving yards. The squad's No. 2 wideout from a year ago, MarQueis Gray, has moved to quarterback.

"He has to have a great year for us to be very good football team. I mean, he really does," new Gophers coach Jerry Kill said. "He's our most experienced receiver. ... I think he's looking forward to that challenge."

He's one of the team's most athletic players, a credit to his basketball background. McKnight said the skills he honed on the hardwood -- he played both guard positions in high school -- make him a better receiver.

When he faces man-to-man pressure ...

"In basketball, you've got the crossover," he said. "That's more like getting off a press with a [defensive back]."

When Gray throws him a high pass near the goal line ...

"I was an alley-oop man. A jump ball in the end zone is like an alley-oop to me," he said.

Gray said McKnight's versatility will allow him to take more risks.

"Just throw the ball anytime you need, and know that he'll come down with it," he said.

Stoudermire, McKnight's prep quarterback, witnessed that gift of go-get-it during a high school playoff game when one of his passes sailed over his teammate's head. He said McKnight jumped and caught the ball with his arms draping over his defender's shoulders.

"It was a mismatch for all the cornerbacks we played in high school," Stoudermire said.

McKnight's physical prowess should pose similar challenges for opposing defensive backfield's this season. He's 6-3 and tops 210 pounds, the dimensions of a young NFL receiver. Plus, McKnight said he's nearly 100 percent, months after a knee injury bothered him in spring ball. He said he's ready to lead by ability in 2011.

Unlike McKnight's stubborn switch to football in high school, Kill won't have to coax his top receiver to keep him on the field. McKnight said he's been converted.

"I thought I was the next Michael Jordan like everybody else. And then I came out for football and I realized, it's not too bad," he said. "Basketball, I'm kind of short. In football, I'm a tall guy. In football, I feel like [since] I'm a tall guy, it'd be easier for me."

  • related content

  • Chart: Gophers' returning receivers

    Thursday August 25, 2011

    The Gophers had 209 pass receptions last season, but only 50 by wide receivers on the current roster -- and 48 of those were caught by Da'Jon McKnight. A look...

  • LBs Rallis, Cooper should play vs. USC

    Friday August 26, 2011

    Although both players were recently held out of practice, starting linebackers Mike Rallis and Keanon Cooper are expected to play when the Gophers open their football season at Southern California...

  • SEASON OPENER SEPT. 3 AT SOUTHERN CAL (2:30 P.M., CH. 5)

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

St. Louis - A. Wainwright 11:35 AM
Pittsburgh - J. Locke
Texas - C. Lewis 2:40 PM
Seattle - E. Ramirez
Washington - D. Fister 6:05 PM
Philadelphia - K. Kendrick
Tampa Bay - D. Smyly 6:05 PM
Baltimore - K. Gausman
Boston - J. Kelly 6:07 PM
Toronto - M. Stroman
NY Yankees - S. Greene 6:08 PM
Detroit - D. Price
Atlanta - J. Teheran 6:10 PM
NY Mets - Z. Wheeler
Chicago Cubs - J. Turner 6:10 PM
Cincinnati - M. Latos
Cleveland - C. Kluber 7:10 PM
Chicago WSox - H. Noesi
Minnesota - P. Hughes 7:10 PM
Kansas City - L. Hendriks
Oakland - D. Pomeranz 7:10 PM
Houston - B. Peacock
Milwaukee - Y. Gallardo 8:10 PM
San Diego - O. Despaigne
Los Angeles - C. Kershaw 8:40 PM
Arizona - W. Miley
Miami - H. Alvarez 9:05 PM
LA Angels - H. Santiago
Colorado - F. Morales 9:15 PM
San Francisco - T. Hudson
Atlanta 8/28/14 5:00 PM
Jacksonville
Detroit 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Buffalo
Indianapolis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Cincinnati
Kansas City 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Green Bay
NY Jets 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
St. Louis 8/28/14 6:00 PM
Miami
Carolina 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 8/28/14 6:30 PM
NY Giants
Washington 8/28/14 6:30 PM
Tampa Bay
Baltimore 8/28/14 7:00 PM
New Orleans
Chicago 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Cleveland
Denver 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Dallas
Minnesota 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tennessee
San Francisco 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Houston
Arizona 8/28/14 9:00 PM
San Diego
Seattle 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Oakland
(21) Texas A&M 8/28/14 5:00 PM
(9) So Carolina
Wake Forest 8/28/14 6:02 PM
ULM
Boise State 8/28/14 7:00 PM
(18) Ole Miss
Tulane 8/28/14 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Temple 8/28/14 8:15 PM
Vanderbilt
Rutgers 8/28/14 9:00 PM
Washington St
Weber State 8/28/14 9:30 PM
(19) Arizona State
BYU 8/29/14 6:00 PM
Connecticut
(6) Jacksonville St 8/29/14 6:30 PM
(8) Michigan State
Bowling Green 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Western Ky
TX-San Antonio 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Houston
Colorado State 8/29/14 8:00 PM
Colorado
UNLV 8/29/14 9:30 PM
Arizona
Penn State 8/30/14 7:30 AM
UCF
Troy 8/30/14 11:00 AM
UAB
(7) UCLA 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Virginia
Western Mich 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Purdue
(5) Ohio State 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Navy
Appalachian St 8/30/14 11:00 AM
Michigan
Ga Southern 8/30/14 11:30 AM
NC State
Boston College 8/30/14 2:00 PM
Massachusetts
West Virginia 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(2) Alabama
Rice 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(17) Notre Dame
(10) South Dakota St 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(24) Missouri
Fla Atlantic 8/30/14 2:30 PM
(22) Nebraska
California 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Northwestern
Marshall 8/30/14 2:30 PM
Miami-Ohio
UC Davis 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(11) Stanford
Arkansas 8/30/14 3:00 PM
(6) Auburn
(16) Clemson 8/30/14 4:30 PM
(12) Georgia
Liberty 8/30/14 5:00 PM
(23) North Carolina
Ohio U 8/30/14 5:00 PM
Kent State
Louisiana Tech 8/30/14 6:00 PM
(4) Oklahoma
Idaho 8/30/14 6:00 PM
Florida
Stephen F Austin 8/30/14 6:10 PM
(20) Kansas State
Fresno State 8/30/14 6:30 PM
(15) USC
Southern Miss 8/30/14 6:30 PM
Miss State
Texas-El Paso 8/30/14 7:00 PM
New Mexico
North Texas 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Texas
(1) Florida State 8/30/14 7:00 PM
Oklahoma State
(14) Wisconsin 8/30/14 8:00 PM
(13) LSU
South Dakota 8/30/14 9:30 PM
(3) Oregon
(25) Washington 8/30/14 9:30 PM
Hawaii
Utah State 8/31/14 6:00 PM
Tennessee
SMU 8/31/14 6:30 PM
(10) Baylor
Miami-Florida 9/1/14 7:00 PM
Louisville
D.C. 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Ottawa 8/29/14 6:30 PM
Montreal
Winnipeg 8/31/14 3:00 PM
Saskatchewan
Toronto 9/1/14 12:00 PM
Hamilton
Edmonton 9/1/14 3:30 PM
Calgary
Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

Date/Opponent Time W L Score
2014 season     
Aug 28 - vs. E. Illinois 6 pm
Sep 6 - vs. M. Tennessee St. 2:30 pm
Sep 13 - at TCU 3 pm
Sep 20 - vs. San Jose St. TBA
Sep 27 - at Michigan TBA
Oct 11 - vs. Northwestern TBA
Oct 18 - vs. Purdue 11 am
Oct 25 - at Illinois 11 am
Nov 8 - vs. Iowa TBA
Nov 15 - vs. Ohio State TBA
Nov 22 - at Nebraska TBA
Nov 29 - at Wisconsin TBA

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Which football team will have the best record in 2014?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close