BOGACZYK: Knight, Clark Receiving Big Opportunities
The Word on the Herd-Apr. 16, 2016
By JACK BOGACZYK
The Herd held its first controlled spring scrimmage Saturday morning at Edwards Stadium, and the two Sunshine State receivers were running consistently with the first offensive unit … and that’s a new experience for both.
Knight, a speedy special teams regular for the past two seasons, hasn’t played much on offense. Now, the rising senior from Fort Pierce, Fla., is getting the opportunity to win the slot receiver job … a spot where record-setting Tommy Shuler held court for three seasons and Deandre Reaves for a breakout year in 2015.
Clark, who hails from only a few miles away from Tropicana Field – site of the Herd’s St. Petersburg Bowl victory last December – is getting his first taste of college football after transferring to Marshall last August and sitting out the season after he left behind a basketball scholarship at St. Francis (Pa.).
Clark, senior Justin Hunt and junior Deon-Tay McManus are sharing the X and Z outside receiver spots.
If the early performance arcs remain as they have in the first three weeks of camp, there’s little reason to think Knight and Clark, a sophomore, will be catching less from quarterback Chase Litton when August camp opens.
“It’s always a grind,” said the 6-foot-1, 195-pound Knight, who has only five career receptions. “I’m just trying to work hard every day, and I’ve been trying to get extra reps with Chase and the other quarterbacks, taking advantage of all of my opportunities.”
What he’s practiced mostly on offense – with the scout team in past seasons – is patience.
“It’s always tough and frustrating when you’re waiting,” Knight said. “I’ve just tried to believe in the process, work hard, stay humble and stay positive.”
Knight, who will turn 22 on Thursday, has been part of three bowl-winning teams with a combined record of 33-8 and a Conference USA championship squad that was nationally ranked to finish 2014.
“Yeah, it does help when you win,” Knight said. “Sometimes, you need to look at the greater good, and your role in it. Every guy on this team has a role. You do whatever can do to help the team. Whatever I can do to help the team, I’ll do it, and I have.”
Knight was one of only seven true freshmen to play for the 2013 Herd, and he’s bounced between the inside and outside receiver spots in his three MU seasons. Maybe this time, he’s found a home.
“I’m a little bit more comfortable in there,” Knight said of the slot, “and with Reaves gone, it opened up a spot, made more opportunity for me.”
Reaves, a star kick returner, emerged from three-deep at the slot in August camp to finish the 2015 season with 56 receptions for 705 yards and four TDs.
“I had a lot of respect for Reaves,” Knight said. “He showed me just how to keep your head down and keep working, stay humble, go hard. He was a real humble guy, worked hard all of the time. He showed how to do it every Saturday, so I’m just trying to be like that now.”
Clark’s arrival on the roster gained fanfare for two reasons – his 6-7 height and the fact he was recommended to Coach Doc Holliday and the Herd staff by Litton, who had played youth basketball in the Tampa Bay region with and against the rangy Clark.
Now, Clark showing his mettle with his good hands and ability to do more as a receiver than win jump balls with shorter cornerbacks and safeties. On Saturday, he had a few mano-a-mano matchups with aggressive corners Rodney Allen and Chris Jackson.
“It was different; it’s been a while,” Clark said, smiling. “I haven’t really been in full contact until today. This has been the first time. The last time I was in real contact was in a preseason game my sophomore year of high school.
“Being out there in that, it’s just a good experience for me. Everything is there, but it’s just a whole different mindset when you’re actually live. It’s like live bullets now, like they say. It’s not the same as practice. You’ve got to protect yourself and hold onto the ball.”
Not only is Clark 6-7, but he was a vertical leap in the 35-inch range. So, he’s dangerous deep, but he’s working on his craft in other ways, he said.
“It’s about routes,” Clark said. “They know I’m always going to be a deep-ball threat, so it’s using that to my advantage – coming down quicker, getting back to the ball, things like that. It’s about being more fundamental with my routes.”
When Litton’s “sales job” of Clark comes up, Herd followers might rekindle thoughts of the Miami boyhood connection between quarterback Rakeem Cato and Shuler that produced 322 pass connections. But Clark and Litton didn’t play high school or sandlot ball together.
“Chase and I, we’ve always been friends off the field,” Clark said. “That’s always been there. Just now, we’re finally starting to get reps together because I haven’t been with the ones before. So, it’s getting in rhythm and getting comfortable catching footballs from him.”
McManus and Hunt produced 55 catches for 629 yards and five touchdowns last season, and they’ve combined for 13 career starts. Receivers coach Mike Furrey has added Clark to that mix because of more than potential, however.
“I mean that’s the thing that comes up, the inexperience with me,” Clark said. “But I’m very confident in myself and I always wanted this, so it’s not like I’m scared or worried or anything. So, whatever I need to do, I’m going to step up and do.
“Where I am (on the depth chart), it has come faster. It has come a lot faster. I didn’t expect myself to be here where I am. I mean, I knew at some point I’d be playing, but even when I first stepped on campus – maybe the first month or so – I was recognized as someone who could be someone.
“And from there, I just tried to do what I could do.”