McKnight 100 Percent

Last season, fifth-year senior Rhema McKnight thought he'd close the book on his Notre Dame career with his best season. Instead, he found himself on the sidelines with a knee injury that spoiled his swansong at Notre Dame. McKnight is hoping 2006 will finally be the type of year he's trained for since his arrival at Notre Dame.

"I'm not even thinking about it. It's not an issue anymore," wide receiver Rhema McKnight confidently said about his rehabilitated knee after Notre Dame's first practice of fall camp on Monday.

"I have no problems," he added. "I'm as confident as ever. I hope I can just get through this camp and then we'll start worrying about Georgia Tech."

The first day of practice always takes a bit of adjustment according to most players, McKnight included.

"It felt unusual to start off with, but once everything got going, once we started throwing the ball around a little bit, it felt real good," he said. "I felt at home and I'm just happy to be starting up again."

The La Palma, Calif. native is trying to finally put together the type of season he dreamed of when enrolling in Notre Dame in August 2002. As a true freshman McKnight played in all 12 games catching the first nine passes of his career and has been a standout ever since.

But with career totals of 103 receptions, 1,370 yards and seven touchdowns, McKnight is hoping for a Jeff Samardzija-type breakout season. In order to do that, McKnight will have to find the rhythm he once had with senior quarterback Brady Quinn as Notre Dame's No. 1 receiver. It sounds as if they're already there.

"I feel like we haven't skipped a beat," McKnight said of his timing with Quinn. "I think part of that is due to the fact that we spent a lot of time in the off season getting together as much as we can, throwing the ball around.

"We're just ready to win, but like I said, you've got to take it one step at a time. That's getting through camp first…..then we'll start worrying about Georgia Tech."

"I'm not looking forward to camp, but definitely looking forward to getting started with everything," McKnight admitted. "We understand camp is part of the process. We've got to go through it and we're going to do the best we can to succeed."

However, McKnight is looking forward to strapping on the pads and hitting a bit and the competition that comes with camp.

"We love competition," he said of the offensive players. "We love getting after everybody, even if it's our teammates. We're not trying to hurt them or anything. It's solid competition. We're ready to go out there, butt heads a little bit and talk a little trash to our teammates."

But it's the individual battles that McKnight enjoys the most in practice.

"That's probably one of the best parts of the day--going against someone one-on-one," he said of the individual man-on-man drills against the defensive backs. "Most of the skill guys are watching. It gets pretty intense at times."

Irish head coach Charlie Weis said McKnight looks as good or better than he did at this time last year after Monday's practice. McKnight wasn't sure how he performed.

"I'm just going to have to take his word for it," he said with a laugh when told of Weis's comments. "I feel really good….100 percent. (I'm) running around fine, cutting well and I hope I can continue to get better every day."

Weis, also known to bust the chops of his front-line players, certainly doesn't leave McKnight out of the line of fire.

"He leaves me alone in front of everybody, but when we meet or something like that, he gets on me," the former high school quarterback said. "It's just him getting to know his players better. We usually give it back and forth to each other."

At this time five years ago McKnight was a wide-eyed freshman hoping to make a name for himself. He said he saw a lot of players out there on Monday in the same situation that impressed him.

"I think, for the most part, all our freshmen, they kind of surprised me today," he said. "They had a few freshmen mistakes and stuff like that, but for the most part the freshmen did a good job—just trying to get acclimated to the system, the way we run things here."

Probably the biggest change for McKnight is the departure or fellow partner in crime and best friend, Maurice Stovall. For the past four years the two were inseparable.

"It's definitely a little different, but at the same time Mo has moved on to bigger and better things and we've still got business to take care of here," McKnight said of Stovall. "I've gotten pretty adjusted to him not being here."

But is the team thankful they don't have to listen to Stovall's constant singing at practice?

"Oh yeah, definitely, but we both used to do it," McKnight said with a laugh. "I guess a lot of people probably miss me singing."


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