Fredi Knighten In-Depth

Fredi Knighten will lead the offense in the 101st season of AState football. His thoughts on leadership, getting better as a player, and his HIGH expectations for the Red Wolves.

What were the original reasons you chose to play at Arkansas State? – “A big reason was Coach Malzahn.  He knew my high school coach real well and was recruiting me when he was at Auburn.  Then he got the job at A-State and offered me.  Then I came for an official visit.  At first I thought I was going to wait to decide, but I loved it here so much that I committed that weekend before I left.  I couldn’t wait to play here.”

Looking back at that decision was it a good one for you? – “Oh yes.  I’m extremely happy I made the decision to play here.  I’ve made life-long friends and I’ve really enjoyed just going to school here.  With football it has really worked out well, getting to start last year and then the whole staff returning heading into my senior year with a lot of guys back.  It’s been a great decision for me all around.”

As a player entering his senior season, what’s it like to see all of the facility upgrades going on around the program and the level of excitement taking place in Jonesboro? – “It’s just extremely exciting.  When we came here we did so with the mindset of trying to take this program to the next level.  Now you see the results of those efforts taking place.  It was talked about so much but to actually be able to see it all and already use the new indoor facility is great.  It’s a big deal to me just to be able to say I was a part of all of this.  It’s amazing.”

You’re now one of the senior leaders on the team that everybody is depending on.  What’s it like knowing you’re in that position heading into this season? – “I love it.  I want guys to look up to me and look to me to lead them.  It’s a challenge and can be nerve-racking, but in a good way.  It pushes you to do things you may not have done before but that can result in improving myself and those guys around me.  There’s nothing better than helping guys out and seeing that effort making them better players and better teammates.”

How would you describe your leadership style? – “I think overall it’s been natural for me, but I haven’t always thought about myself as a leader.  I always looked at me as just a normal kid, just one of the guys.  Then one of my coaches, who was also one of my teachers at the time, told me to be a good example.  He said if the guys saw me messing around than they would do the same thing.  So I think initially I always just tried to lead by example.  Now, especially during this past off-season, I’ve tried to become more of a vocal leader.  Sometimes it takes you talking to your teammates to get the message across about what we want to accomplish together.  Leadership is something I feel like I can always keep working on and get better at in every aspect.”

What was your first 1-on-1 meeting like with Coach Bell? – “(laughing)Well, I remember he texted me after the bowl game to see if I could come by and meet with him, but I couldn’t because I was on my way home.  When I got back, all of the quarterbacks got together with him.  He started talking about the bowl game and told me, “Honestly, you were terrible in that game.  Just really bad.  But, when it mattered, you came through, and sometimes that is all that matters in a game.”  He was right too.  When I thought about it and looked at the tape, I was bad.  Coach Bell is a good guy.  He’s out there and he’s loud and on us.  He’s going to be hard on us to be better, but he’s also there to tell you when you’re doing a good job or pick you up after you screw up.”

How was the first spring with this staff last season? – “It was hard for me because I was getting more reps than I was used to.  I put a lot of pressure on myself too so it was stressful at times.  But Coach Bell told me to stay calm and patient and just try to focus on being better than you were the day before each and every day.  He said to focus on learning what I’m supposed to do and keep working hard.  So that helped me focus on just learning the new system and taking it one day at a time.”

Is it accurate to say you all were probably still learning the nuances of the offense and what you needed to do during the early part of last season? – “Absolutely.  We were still trying to figure out which packages worked best with our personnel each week and how to attack certain defenses.  We really were still trying to figure out how each of us could be effective in this offense too which was hard to do until the games started and you were confronted with real-time situations.  We were learning what the coaches wanted from us and they were still learning what each of us was capable of in game situations.  I mean, for a lot of us, that was our first time playing or starting full-time.  We started to get on the same page as the season went on and really gelled as a unit in the second half of the season.  It was rough at times but we closed strong.”

At what point in the season do you feel like things started coming together for you and the offense? – “Honestly, I think those first 5 games I was awful.  The Utah State game I think showed us how hard we needed to work every single series.  You can’t come out sleepwalking and expect to win.  Then I think the Georgia State game showed us that if we just do our base packages really well and be good at what we do, then we’ll be just fine.  Our base 15 plays can take us a long way if we do it right and do it well.”

Do you have a favorite game from last season? – “That’s tough.  Every game matters, but if I had to pick, the New Mexico State game was cool.  Just being able to send out the seniors with a win at home was special after everything we’d all been through here.  Seeing them win their final home game was awesome.”

So then which game do you wish you could do over the most? – “The Miami game.  There were crucial times early on that I had a chance to put us in better situations to be able to win that game and I didn’t get it done.  If some of those plays went differently, the result could have been different.”

Looking back now, how would you rate your first season as the starting quarterback? – “I’d give myself a C+.  I think those first 5 games were rough for me.  I look back now and see so many ways I could have helped the team more with my decisions and actions.  Even at the end of the season I think I could have been more consistent with the easy plays and get us past some of those teams we lost to.  So yeah, I’d say a C+.”

What did Coach Bell want you to work on the most this off-season? – “First, just being a better decision-maker for the offense.  Then work on my skills from the waist down for more balance in my throwing mechanics.  Plus he said it would help me in the run game, which is a big part of what we do.  The need to create explosive plays with both my passing and my running will be important for us.”

Did you have particular things on your own that you wanted get better at this summer? – “Yes.  I wanted to get better at being able to make the easy plays more consistently.  Just making them routine, 100% execution.  You got to take the easy plays when they’re there and not force things.  Play smarter.”

What other quarterbacks do you study or try learning from? – “I love Tom Brady.  Just how he manages the pocket, moves around, and distributes the ball.  And he gets fired up on the field.  Russell Wilson is one of my favorites because he’s a small guy people doubted.  He doesn’t try to force things.  He has a good team around him and he recognizes that and just tries to run the offense and take what the defense gives him.  When he needs to make special plays he can do that too.  Those would be the two I like watching and learning from the most.”

What areas do you think the offense has made the most improvements in this off-season? – “I think the “want-to” and that people on this team have decided they want to be great.  A lot of people say they want to be great but don’t put the effort in to do so.  Our guys really put the effort in this summer to not just be good, but be great.  It was awesome to see every day.  We did a great job on our bodies and our basics.  Just the fundamental drills that will carry over to executing what we run.  Then from a team-building aspect, just building our trust in each other even further was huge this summer.  Knowing that the guy next to you is working as hard as you and will do their job.”

Are there guys on the offense people don’t know a lot about that you feel are poised for big things this season? – “Yes.  Blake Mack is ready to do great things.  Tyler Trosin is our workhorse.  He’s just a beast.  He’ll block like crazy but then also be ready to make big catches and runs.  Silky will contribute a lot again.  He’s just that knack of never being tackled by just one guy and finding the hole.  The combo of him and Mike will be awesome with the addition of the young guys too.  We just have so many playmakers on this team.  I really think week in and week out you’ll see all sorts of different guys playing huge roles in each game.”

The team and the staff really look like they’ve become a close-knit group.  From a team-building aspect how was the off-season in your eyes? – “It was awesome.  Our program with Coach Shadeed really drew us together in so many ways.  Not just on the field either.  We learned more about each other and what makes us tick.  We learned who responds what way in different situations.  We were really open with each other and I think it’s going to help us know exactly how to interact, motivate each other effectively, and then also how to pull guys together when adversity hits.  Coach Anderson is big on the family atmosphere we have here and we’ve continued that into camp now each and every night.  We’re learning where each us have come from and what our lives have been like and how we can be better teammates to each other.  We won’t be able to do the special things we want to do on the field if we don’t know the guy playing next to us.  You can see it already in practice.  It’s been an awesome experience.”

How big was it for the players to have the entire coaching staff remain intact? – “(laughing)Man, it was huge.  Now we’re not starting over again.  We’re getting better at what we do.  We’re putting in things we know will make us better now because of our experience together.  I can’t even explain how big it was to not have to learn a new offense.  So yeah, it was huge for us.”

Last season you came in as sort of an unknown entity at quarterback as the starter.  Coming into this season you’re on everybody’s quarterback awards’ watch list.  What’s that mean to you? – “You know, my whole life people have told me I’m no good.  So it’s neat to see people say I may be ok at this quarterback thing.  My parents like seeing it, but in all honesty, it’s nice, but it’s not where my head is at coming into this season.  I’m focused on where I need to get better.  I’m focused on what we need to do as a unit to win games and reach our goals.  Our goals are team goals and I want to be part of helping us reach those team goals.”

Have you talked about it at all with Coach Bell? – “No, he just keeps telling me to do what I know how to do.  Don’t put any extra pressure on myself.  If I can get better and make this unit better we can be a Top 10 offense and win a conference championship.  That’s the award I want most.”

What are your expectations for the offense? – “I think we have the potential to be a Top 5 offense in the country in every major category.  We can be the best offense in school history.  All the potential for greatness is there.  But we have to keep pushing each other every day to be great on that day.  Nothing will be given to us.  We have to take it.”

Are there any specific areas you think the offense needed to improve in most to reach those goals? – “We need to be better on 3rd downs.  We were not as effective as we needed to be on 3rd down.  We’ve put in some new packages and some new plays to really help us fix our efficiency on 3rd downs.  We can’t turn the ball over as much as we did.  That’s on me too.  We just can’t put the ball in dangerous situations.  The best teams in the country have the best turnover ratios so we need to be better there.  We still need to find new ways to make explosive plays but be careful we don’t lose the ball trying to do too much.”

You guys open up with a huge game in Los Angeles against USC in the Coliseum.  What are thoughts about playing on that stage? – “I’m excited.  The environment will be awesome.  Stepping on the field that so many famous guys have played on is neat.  However, at the same time, the field is the same size as our field here.  They’ll put 11 guys on the field and we’ll put 11 guys on the field.  They have guys that can play and we have guys that can play.  When the whistle blows it’s time to execute what you’ve been working so hard on for months.”

What will you do after getting tackled on the sidelines and somebody is picking you up, and when you look up it’s a celebrity like Will Ferrell? – “(laughing)I don’t know.  That’s funny.  Probably say, ‘What’s up Will?’ and run back on the field.  Can’t let that slow our offense down.”

After that game comes the home opener against Missouri.  What do think the atmosphere will be like that night in Jonesboro? – “It will be electric.  That will be the biggest game I’ve played in at this stadium, no doubt about it.  Can’t wait to play in front of our fans.”

Looking ahead, the Sun Belt Championship race is shaping up to be a tight one.  What would bringing home a conference title mean to you in your senior season? – “It would mean everything to me.  That’s why we do what we do every day.  All the hard work and all of the hard days.  Not winning it last year hurt.  Left a bad taste in my mouth.  Going to a banquet and not getting a ring burned us up.  Bringing it back to A-State this season would be special.”

If they filled the stadium full of Red Wolves’ fans tonight and gave you the microphone, what would you want to tell them about this season? – “I would say it will be one for the books.  It’s going to be something special.  I can’t put into words, but I’ve just got this feeling in my gut something special is going to happen.  I can’t even sleep at night.  Just that feeling that this season will be like no other one they’ve seen.  I believe it with every ounce of my being.  I see the fire in everybody’s eyes.  I just can’t wait.”