It’s been quite a year for Trevor Knight.
This time last year, almost everyone was expecting Blake Bell to be the starting quarterback at Oklahoma for the next two years and Knight was just the guy who imitated Johnny Manziel really well during the Sooners’ Cotton Bowl preparations.
Now, Knight is a budding superstar thanks to his performance in the Sugar Bowl against Alabama. Expectations are through the roof and the pressure is mounting on Knight to produce the same way this season.
“That’s a baseline,” Knight said of his Alabama performance. “That’s a foundation now; that’s my best game so far. I want to build on that and have another best game and another best game. In a perfect world, that’s each and every week, you just get better and better. Obviously, things aren’t going to go that way. There’s going to be adversity, but it’s about attacking it with that mindset every week.”
Since the night he shredded Nick Saban’s vaunted defense, Knight’s popularity has skyrocketed. Once thought of as not much more than a failed experiment thanks to poor performances against Louisiana-Monroe and West Virginia to start the season, Knight is now viewed as the guy who can lead the Sooners’ to their eighth national championship.
Knight says the popularity is something he dreamed about as a little kid, but the popularity in and of itself isn’t the most rewarding part of his play on the field. The doors that have opened because of his newfound fame have meant more to him than anything else.
“I’ve gotten the opportunities since the Sugar Bowl to go speak at a bunch of different places to a bunch of young people, share my faith and speak into their lives,” Knight said. “That’s what I get joy out of from the spotlight. Playing great is obviously amazing and you come as a competitor to win a bunch of ball games, but once you do that, getting the opportunity to speak into young people’s lives is pretty special.”
The popularity that comes with being a star football player at one of the most historic college football programs is more than enough to lead to a swelled head. Knight is aware of that and leans on close friends and family to keep him grounded.
“My roommate, (OU center) Ty Darlington, is just a solid man of faith and is really one of my rocks in that regard,” Knight said. “My twin brother, I can lean on him any time I want to and then Adam Barnett, who is my pastor over at the church I go to, disciples me every week. Day to day, those are the guys I lean on.”
Knight’s humility is not just for his own benefit, but for the benefit of the entire team. Senior defensive back Julian Wilson knows the danger of an arrogant person in a position of leadership like Knight’s.
“You always have to be humble because there are always people looking at you,” Wilson said. “The young guys—I’m a senior—they’re always looking at me so if I go around carrying myself in an un-humble way, they’re going to think that’s OK.“
The life of a popular guy like Knight involves a lifestyle unfamiliar to the average person. Constantly being asked for pictures and autographs and receiving well wishes don’t happen to just anyone when they’re out and about the town. But it’s something Knight has grown accustomed to over the past six months.
Knight said he hasn’t had any weird encounters (yet), but said the happiness he projects for his admiring fans is inspired by a people in a much different situation from him.
“After going on our trip to Haiti, you realize these people have joy with such little over there and you bring that back and you realize I’m blessed with this opportunity to play football at a high level and that’s my avenue so I’m going to make the most of it,” Knight said.
“Anyone is going to enjoy that,” Knight added about the attention. “It’s not an arrogance thing or anything like that, but you enjoy getting some praise personally, but you know it’s for the right reasons.”
OU coach Bob Stoops has not been oblivious to the growth in Knight’s popularity, but he has also taken note of how Knight has handled everything that has come his way.
“He’s an incredibly balanced guy,” Stoops said. “He’s handled it about as well as anyone could.”
Now comes the hard part for Knight. Many are expecting his performance against the Crimson Tide to be the new norm. While his ceiling is hard to see because it’s so high, it’s unreasonable to expect Knight to duplicate his near-perfect performance right off the bat.
“I am still a young guy and I played one good game at the end of the year everyone talks about,” Knight said. “Now it’s using that baseline, using that foundation and going into next season. I’m going to make mistakes. Not everything is going to go as perfect as that game but I’m going to continue working as hard as I can and be the same guy, try to make a bunch of plays.”
The biggest way for Knight to get back to the level of play he displayed in New Orleans is simple: get more snaps. He knows this; his head coach knows this; he teammates know this. It’s almost too simple a formula to be believed, but in this case, simple is best.
“Every snap you take you get more comfortable; every snap you take you get more consistent,” Knight said. “Then you play in big games like the Sugar Bowl and that gives you confidence as well. Just getting more snaps and getting a better relationship with the receivers, better timing and stuff, it’s going to give you more confidence and make you more consistent.”
The early season struggles were tough for Knight and slightly puzzling for a coaching staff that had watched him light up the practice field for months. Knight’s performance against Alabama helped open his eyes to the potential he had when everything came together, according to Stoops. Stoops was also quick to point to Knight’s first hint of a breakout that came not in New Orleans, but in Manhattan, Kan.
“He had an excellent Kansas State game on the road that was impressive (where) we really started to see more consistency and what he’s capable of,” Stoops noted. “To see him perform like that in that situation of course makes you feel good about the future for sure.”
That future looks bright for the Sooners with Knight at the helm. Uncertainty still remains with which Trevor Knight we will see in 2014, but despite that, Knight’s popularity continues to rise and shows no signs of stopping.