As a sophomore, Rhema McKnight became a playmaker for the Irish in the passing game. Not only was McKnight becoming a threat on the field, he was also becoming one of the more vocal players.
One could easily tell the outcome of an Irish game by the look on McKnight's face after a game. If they win, he's celebrating more than anyone. If they lose, he's in a foul mood, and can't wait to get back on the field. It was clearly obvious that McKnight was becoming a leader on the field as just a sophomore.
"Whether I catch a billion balls in one game, if we don't win, it doesn't matter," said McKnight of his hatred for losing. "Our goal is to win a National Championship. My goal isn't necessarily to break every record here. I want to win a National Championship and that is my No. 1 goal."
McKnight says he's loves the leadership role he's earned. "I'm a returning starter so I'm expected to lead our newer receivers and the rest of the team as well. I'm stepping up and taking a big role for such a young guy."
McKnight says the Irish have been improving this spring. "We're moving the ball a little bit. We've put a couple of new things in--a lot of new things we wanted to do last year. I think we've done well, but we still need a lot of improvements."
For McKnight to have the type of season he'd like to have, quarterback Brady Quinn will have to improve. McKnight says he's seen major improvement in Quinn already this spring. "I see a big improvement--maturity level, him making better reads, getting the ball out quicker. He's improved a lot. Hopefully he can do that this spring and throughout summer and come into the fall strong."
McKnight has worked hard in the off-season cutting his 40 time. "Getting in and out of cuts has always been my forte. My big problem was I couldn't get the straight forward speed down. I worked on that in the off-season and got that down a little bit. That's the thing a receiver really needs. Not necessarily straight forward speed but getting in and out of breaks and creating separation."
Separation is the one thing McKnight believes he brings to the table. "I think that's a key for any receiver and I think that's one of my strengths. I have the ability to create separation, cut away from a guy quicker than he can react."
McKnight played quarterback in high school and he said that experience helped him adapt quickly to playing receiver. "One thing it really helped me with was learning defenses, knowing what defenses are doing, knowing what type of defenses people were in and how to read those defenses."
McKnight has been working this spring against the young Irish secondary. Secondary coach Steve Wilks appears to teach the defensive backs to be very physical at the line of scrimmage. We asked McKnight if he's seen a change in how physical the defensive backs have been playing him. "I've seen that throughout the whole spring, even when we didn't have the pads on. They're out there tackling, throwing us around, the physical aspect is definitely there for them."
Maurice Stovall is McKnight's partner in crime. Stovall didn't have the type of year many thought he would in 2003, but McKnight says Irish fans should look out for Stovall to have an outstanding season. "I think everyone is going to see a different Mo. He's so focused and he's a great receiver. I think we are all going to see some great things on offense."
The Irish could use more players like McKnight. There is never any question as to how much he wants to win. Expect a lot of big plays from Rhema McKnight in 2004.