South/East Xtra: Former Central Catholic player adjusts to position switch at California

COLLEGE FOOTBALL

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Jeff Knox Jr. is a perfect example of a team player.

Knox has played offense, defense and special teams during his three years at California University of Pennsylvania. And he's seen action on both sides of the ball all three years.

"Jeff is an unselfish player who is willing to do what's best for the team," California coach Mike Kellar said. "He's been our Gordy Lockbaum."

Kellar was referring to a former Holy Cross football player who played both ways during his college career in the late 1980s and almost won the Heisman Trophy.

"We had a need at running back last year and Jeff stepped in and finished as our top rusher," Kellar said. "This year, we need to fill a couple holes at linebacker and Jeff has agreed to make the switch to defense."

Knox, a 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior, is a Penn Hills resident who attended Central Catholic High School for two years before transferring to DeMatha Catholic, a school located just outside Washington in Hyattsville, Md., for his final two years of high school.

"I played a lot as a freshman at Central Catholic and started as a sophomore at running back and safety," Knox said. "My move to DeMatha was because my parents wanted to get me out of this neighborhood. They felt I had a better chance of playing at college by spending my final two years of high school at DeMatha."

Knox has been a multi-purpose player since his freshman year at California. He played in all 13 games that year and rushed for 280 yards on 84 carries, while scoring a team-high 10 touchdowns. He also recorded 21 total tackles while playing in the defensive backfield, and contributed on special teams.

As a sophomore, Knox saw significant playing time on both sides of the ball, while continuing to contribute on special teams. He started three games in the defensive backfield and one game as a running back.

He rushed for 205 yards and nine touchdowns on 57 carries. He also recorded 38 total tackles, including 16 solo stops, and returned 21 kickoffs for a 24.4-yard average.

Last season, Knox appeared in nine games and started eight in the offensive backfield. He led the Vulcans with 507 yards and five touchdowns on 135 rushing attempts. He saw very little time on defense, but did continue playing special teams.

"I'm a defensive player," said Knox, when asked about his position change to linebacker for his senior year. "I love to play defense, but coach needed me on offense when we lost a couple running backs to injuries. I had no problem making the change. I've always been a team player. I will do what's best for the team."

Knox's change to linebacker was due to the Vulcans' significant graduation losses on defense. Seven of the Vulcans 11 starters graduated. And only one linebacker returns.

"I'm very optimistic with our chances in the PSAC West this season," Knox said. "We have a strong group of returning starters on offense. The defense doesn't have as much experience, but we do have a lot of talent."

California posted a 7-4 record last season, which included three losses to nationally ranked teams. The Vulcans finished with a 4-3 record in the PSAC West.

"Our goal every year is to win the PSAC West and qualify for the NCAA Division II tournament," Knox said.

Knox has already graduated and is beginning work on a second degree.

"I graduated in May with a degree in social sciences," Knox said. "I'm starting work on my master's degree this fall. It will take a year and a half."

Knox's eventual goal is to get into forensic science.

"I love all the CSI and NCIS-type shows," Knox said. "I really want to work in that field."

Knox and his California University teammates begin the season at 1 p.m. Saturday at home against Virginia State.


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