After a spectacular debut for the Saskatchewan Roughriders, running back Joe McKnight is the name on everyone’s lips.
McKnight started in place of the injured Curtis Steele last Saturday and made his mark early, rushing for 150 yards in about three quarters of play.
It was good enough to earn him this week’s CFL Top Performer Award for this week, but he’s not exactly singing his own praises.
“I haven’t showed anything yet,” McKnight said when asked if he showed people what kind of back he could be. “If I do it the next two weeks then I’ve shown some people something.”
Perhaps that attitude comes from McKnight’s history, including overcoming a difficult injury.
A high school star, McKnight was a highly sought by several colleges including Louisiana State University and the University of Southern California – where he eventually played.
His talent continued to be on display all through his college years, with media labeling him the next Reggie Bush. In 2008 he had a stand out performance in the Rose Bowl amassing 36 yards on punt returns, 45 receiving yards, 125 rushing yards and a touchdown.
After three years in NFL, he was cut by the Jets in 2013. He spent a year out of football before signing with the Kansas City Chiefs. It was there he tore his Achilles and the battle to recover began.
“You just have to believe you can make it back,” McKnight said about his injury. “If you have that faith in yourself that you can push through anything it’s always going to work out fine.”
After a year of rehabbing McKnight was signed in Edmonton in 2016 – but he was released for fumbling issues – after that the Roughriders came in to sign him. He said the whole journey has been a humbling one.
“I came out here with something to prove,” McKnight said. ”You’re only as good as your last appearance. And my last appearance was in Edmonton against Saskatchewan and I didn’t have a good game so I just wanted to come and capitalize on my opportunities.”
Indeed, Head Coach Chris Jones said he was proud of McKnight for holding on to the football during his team debut, but also for how much he gives to football.
“It is a tough business, it’s pro football … you got to go out day in and day out and you got to earn your keep,” Jones said. “He’s been a guy that persevered. He continues to want to play football and I’m just proud that he’s done that and again, he’s played nothing but good football for us.”
Despite that outstanding start, McKnight has a few things he still wants to work on, including keeping Darian Durant safe from the opposing defences.
“Last game I gave up two sacks, you know, lost my technique (and) kind of went head hunting for a little bit but (Wednesday) and (Tuesday) I’ve been working on my technique,” he said.
With that in mind, expect to see a more well-rounded Joe McKnight in Saturday’s game, but he hopes with the help of his offensive line – who he gives much of the credit for his performance – it will be just as exciting as the last one.