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Knott finds niche in Spartan offense

September 11, 2002
Sophomore tight end Eric Knott gets tripped up by Eastern Michigan defenders during the Aug. 31 game at Spartan Stadium. The Spartans routed the Eagles 56-7. Knott has made 10 receptions on the year, which is second only to junior wide receiver Charles Rogers’ 13. —

Sophomore tight end Eric Knott is proving why he was considered the nation’s No. 1 tight end recruit coming out of Detroit’s Henry Ford High in 1999.

In his junior and senior seasons at Henry Ford he caught 72 passes for 1,186 yards and 15 touchdowns.

In just two games at his natural position, Knott is already starting to put up similar numbers.

Despite not getting the start against Eastern Michigan in the season-opener, Knott pulled down six catches for 69 yards and two touchdowns.

Then against Rice he snagged four catches for 23 yards and one touchdown. Knott’s 10 receptions are second only to junior wide receiver Charles Rogers’ 13.

His three receiving touchdowns also tie him for the team lead with Rogers.

“I’ve gotten real comfortable with Eric real quickly,” junior quarterback Jeff Smoker said.

“He’s pretty natural, he learns stuff real quick, and he’s easy to throw to because he’s so athletic.”

Knott’s first career reception came on Smoker’s first completed pass of the season, a 13-yarder on the Spartans’ first offensive possession.

“When I went back to the sidelines one of the offensive linemen said, ‘We’ve been waiting three years for that,’” Knott said. “That was kind of fun.”

Smoker went so far as to compare Knott to former MSU tight end Chris Baker, who is in his rookie season with the New York Jets.

Baker finished his brilliant four-year career as the Spartans’ all-time leader in receptions (133) and yards (1,705) for a tight end.

He also was second on MSU’s all-time tight end list with 13 touchdowns.

Baker’s best year was by far his senior season in 2001, when he collected 40 receptions for 548 yards and four touchdowns.

If Knott maintains, he’ll finish with 60 receptions for 552 yards and 18 touchdowns.

With the absence of a legitimate No. 2 receiver to compliment Rogers, Knott is sure to continue to get plenty of looks from Smoker.

“I see Eric Knott at a younger age and doing a lot of the things that Chris was able to do,” Smoker said.

“Chris Baker is signed and in the NFL now.”

For Knott’s former high-school coach, Mike Marshall, the quick success is no surprise. Marshall said he still talks with Knott on a regular basis.

“We’ve had a lot of great (players) come through, but Eric could totally dominate when he put his mind to it,” he said. “You haven’t seen nothing yet.”

But Knott’s path to the field hasn’t been easy.

He fought a legal battle that would see him ultimately plead guilty to fourth-degree criminal sexual conduct.

But the legal precedings didn’t allow Knott to enroll in 2000.

When he arrived on campus, it wasn’t a welcome sight, as students picketed outside home football games for granting someone convicted of a misdemeanor a scholarship.

Knott said it was tough, and he tried not to read the papers. But he realized he couldn’t change the way others thought.

“I’m trying to move forward now,” he said. “The past is in the past, and that’s where I’ve left it.”

In 2001, Baker and fellow senior Ivory McCoy held down the fort at tight end and Knott never saw action on the offensive side of the ball.

He did see limited action at defensive end.In 10 games, Knott recorded three total tackles - two were solo.

His longest stint on the field was 12 minutes in the season finale against Missouri at Spartan Stadium.

Knott also saw action on special teams.

Marshall said the year off hurt Knott from a physical standpoint, as his conditioning dropped off after a year away from football.

“He got up to 280-something and that was just too big for him,” Marshall said. “You could see he didn’t carry it well.”

After arriving on campus in summer 2001, Knott has feverishly worked to get back into playing shape.

Coming into this season, Knott was more focused and ready to return to the tight end position he was accustomed to.

Knott said it was the Spartans’ winter-conditioning program that helped him trim back down to 251 pounds.

The program had him up at 5 a.m., running by 6:30 a.m. and then hitting the weight room.

“It took me a while to come back,” he said.

“It’s not like riding a bike. It’s not that easy.”

The hard work paid off, and offensive coordinator Morris Watts is one of the many impressed with Knott’s play this season.

“He showed he knows where to go with the ball when he catches it,” Watts said. “He has very good hands.”

Knott said it’s good to know coaches and fans are impressed with his work on the field, but he said he’s not satisfied yet.

“I’ve got a lot to prove,” he said.

“I did a little, but I haven’t done enough. This is just a little taste of what I’m trying to accomplish.”

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