McKnight signs with Alabama

Better late than never. <br><br>For Callahan, Florida receiver Marcus McKnight, his dream of playing big-time college football almost didn't come true. But a late qualifying test score and a persistent Tide coach turned things around.

"Most of the schools talking to me backed off at the last minute, when they thought I wasn't going to qualify," McKnight related. "I visited a 1A school, James Madison, but things didn't work out there. At the end of May I had signed with East Central (junior college). I took summer school classes in July."

A good-sized athlete (6-2, 170) with very good speed (4.47), McKnight's academic troubles frankly scared off most schools. But after enrolling in junior college he received the news that his last test score was high enough to pass muster with the NCAA.

Overlooked by most during the 2002 recruiting season, McKnight was well known to the Tide coaches.

"When I got my test score, Coach Koenning had me come up and meet Coach Fran," McKnight continued. "Everything worked out like it was supposed to. I got the deal done today. I appreciate Coach Fran giving me the chance."

When defensive end Chris Browder failed to qualify, his scholarship was freed up. And McKnight signed the papers with Alabama yesterday morning, making him a late addition to the Tide's 2002 class.

"Coach (Les) Koenning has been on me from the beginning," McKnight said. "Me and him have been talking since Day one. He's a really good guy. I like him a lot. I think he'll make me a better player, him and Coach (Kenith) Pope. I want to improve at my position so I can get to the next level. They've had great receivers here at Alabama."

West Nassau High School did not feature a wide-open passing attack, and McKnight also had to work with several quarterbacks during the season. He finished his senior year with 28 receptions for 520 yards and six touchdowns.

"As a receiver I think I'm like my friend, Jabar Gaffney," McKnight said. "I think I run good routes. I've got good hands. He and I grew up close together and worked out together in the off season. I worked on my speed with him to get faster. That's my main goal."

Raised in the heart of Florida Gator country, McKnight nevertheless harbored a healthy respect for the Tide. "I grew up a Gator fan; they were my ‘growing up' team," he acknowledged. "I watched a lot of their games. But besides Florida, when I was growing up Alabama had a tradition I really liked. It's just as good as Florida to me.

McKnight is one of several new receivers, hoping to earn a spot in the Bama playing rotation.

"Even though I'm away from home, I still like the atmosphere here."

In Freddie Milons and Jason McAddley, Alabama lost two starting receivers to the NFL. And before deciding to sign with the Tide, McKnight did his homework. "I looked at the depth chart, and I saw the chance to come here and try and get some playing time. Plus, the tradition here is a draw. I really wanted to be here, so I decided to come."

The uncertainty about his future now behind him, McKnight is happy to be back on the playing field. "I'm ready to play some football," he stated. "My goal is not to redshirt. I'd like to come in and play right away. Basically it's a matter of working hard in practice, in the weight room and on the field.

"I think my chances of getting some playing time are pretty good. Today was a tough practice, trying to get used to a new system. It's not easy coming out of high school. But I think I'll learn the system by studying."

Besides Alabama, other Division 1A schools that continued to recruit McKnight were Cincinnati and Lousiville.

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