McKnight working back from ACL injury
Gordon Bates / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Jonathan McKnight speaks with a reporter after Arizona Wildcats Football practice at Rincon Vista on Monday, August 15th 2011.
Jonathan McKnight used to be an ironman.
From the moment he laced up his first pair of cleats until the end of his freshman year at Arizona, the 5-foot-11 defensive back never missed a football game.
“Nope, not one,” McKnight said, laughing. “I never missed a game.”
After appearing in all 13 games as a freshman and showing flashes of potential, McKnight was poised for a huge sophomore campaign.
In only his second season he was thought of by many as the team’s best cover-corner and the Wildcats were expected to lean heavily on the little brother of former USC running back and current New York Jet Joe McKnight.
That all changed in August of last year.
During a fall practice McKnight tweaked his knee in a non-contact play and tore his ACL. Just like that, his perfect attendance disintegrated, along with his highly anticipated sophomore season.
“I felt like I let down myself when I got hurt, but I couldn’t control it,” McKnight said. “I don’t really think about it anymore because it’s behind me. I’ve just got to move on from it and come back and be like I used to be.”
McKnight won’t participate in contact drills or game play during the spring season, as he’s still only about “70 or 80” percent healthy and hasn’t been cleared for full contact. But McKnight is still doing individual drills and is right on track to be ready to go for fall camp, according to Arizona head coach Rich Rodriguez.
“Jonathan’s another guy that I know just loves football and it’s killing him not to be out there to take every rep. I think he’s right on schedule coming off the surgery,” Rodriguez said. “He’s been pain-free so that’s very encouraging.”
McKnight, who wears a bulky brace on his left knee, admitted that he’s not moving the same as he was before he got hurt. Although he has plenty of time to get back to full strength, the Wildcats need the McKnight of old in the worst way.
They ranked dead last in the Pac-12 in passing defense a season ago and lost two of their top defensive backs in Trevin Wade and Robert Golden, who used up their eligibility. If McKnight is healthy, however, those numbers are bound to improve next season.
Senior receiver Dan Buckner called McKnight “one of the best (corners) I’ve ever seen.” When healthy, McKnight is a “monster,” Buckner said.
“He’s been working hard every day to get back and recover,” Buckner added. “Hopefully he’s the player that he was before because we’re going to need him out there. He can shut down a whole side of the field. He works hard. He’s going to ball out. Hopefully he gets back out there and does what he does.”
UA safety Adam Hall, who missed all but one game with an ACL injury last season, said McKnight looks like he did when he was at the same stage in the recovery process. But he agreed that McKnight is on track and set to be a major factor next season.
“It’s just great to get him back on the field,” Hall said. “He’s going to be a great asset.”