Gone far too soon, Joe McKnight’s versatility unsurpassed

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McKnight on WHNO-TV’s Prep Recruiting Insider in 2014

We are only here for a short while. It is incumbent upon us to maximize our time on earth.

In the midst of nearly four decades of covering prep sports, one of the great pleasures was watching and covering the career of Joe McKnight at John Curtis Christian High School.

The news of the tragic death of McKnight earlier this afternoon was stunning, numbing, beyond sad.

It hit J.T. Curtis very hard.

“I was driving when I got a call about Joe possibly being killed,” Curtis said. “I didn’t believe it at first, thinking he might even still be in Canada. I made a few calls to police friends and it turned out to be true. I was numb. I was sick to the stomach. It was hard, so hard to believe. It is still hard to comprehend. What could compel someone to do this?”

Curtis made his way to the scene as quickly as possible.

“It was so difficult,” Curtis said. “I left his mom and sister. They are devastated, in complete disbelief. What can you say? We had Joe since the fourth grade. We watched as he grew into a fine young man. He had to overcome adversity in his life. He did so, pursued his dream and realized it.”

Coming out of Kenner, McKnight was perhaps the smoothest athlete I ever saw play. Having seen Mike Miley, Marshall Faulk, Ed Reed, Peyton Manning, Kordell Stewart and Leonard Fournette, among the many greats I was blessed to see, McKnight did everything seemingly effortlessly.

When Joe needed to make a cut, he had the vision to do so at the proper time and to so on a dime. When he needed the second gear, he pulled away from those pursuing him. When he defended, he anticipated extremely well to come up with numerous intercpetions.

McKnight had a memorable performance in a 28-14 victory at national power Hoover (AL) in 2006, tanked No. 1 in the nation, in a game that was nationally televised.

The four-time defending Class 6A state champion Bucs jumped out to a 14-0 lead before McKnight and the Patriots took over, dominating the rest of the way.

McKinght rushed five times for 70 yards and caught three passes for 134 yards and two touchdowns. On defense, it was McKnight’s fourth quarter interception that sealed the deal.

At Curtis, he was even better known for his kick return prowess and outstanding play in the secondary.

In 2004, McKnight emerged on the scene with three punt returns and a kickoff return for touchdowns, rushed for six scores, caught four touchdown passes and blocked a field goal in the state championship game win over Northside.

In 2005, Hurricane Katrina intervened and McKnight briefly transferred to Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport, playing three games for the Eagles before returning to Curtis.

While at Evangel, McKnight played for Dennis Dunn, who is now at Louisiana College. Dunn told the Shreveport Times that McKnight wanted to remain at Evangel, rather than to return to Curtis.

“J.T. Curtis had a coach up here trailing him the whole time,” Dunn told Roy Lang. “I’m convinced they kidnapped him and took him home.”

Curtis has a different recollection.

“We were not sure we were going to have a season,” Curtis said. “Then, we were going to. When Joe found out that we were going to reopen at Curtis and his best friend, Jonathan English came back, Joe called me about wanting to come back. We provided the opportunity for him. He wanted to come back.”

McKnight returned and lived with Curtis and his family for approximately a year and a half after Katrina while his mother was displaced to Baton Rouge.

In 11 games for the Patriots in 2005, McKnight averaged 18 yards every time he touched the ball, scoring 22 touchdowns, including nine rushing, 11 receiving, four punt returns and one kickoff return for scores and three interception returns for touchdowns. Ironically, McKnight returned to Shreveport for the 2A state championship game due to the damage to the Superdome caused by Katrina. He returned a punt 55 yards for a touchdown and scored on touchdown runs of 58 and 35 yards as Curtis beat St. Charles Catholic 31-6.

In his senior season, McKnight rushed 45 times for 719 yards, an average of nearly 16 yards per carry, and 12 touchdowns. He also caught 24 passes for 735 yards and 11 touchdowns, had three interception returns for scores and return four punts for touchdowns, totaling 30 touchdowns overall.

McKnight was named Parade Magazine Co-National Player of the Year, sharing the award with Jimmy Clausen of Oaks Christian High School (California). He signed with USC, choosing the Trojans over LSU, among others, much to the chagrin of Louisiana fans. He was named All-State in each of his last three seasons at Curtis.

McKnight was recruited by virtually everyone that is anyone in college football. He narrowed his choices to USC, LSU, Alabama and Ole Miss and in a nationally televised signing, he opted for the Trojans, disappointing many Louisiana fans.

McKnight had a good, but not great career at USC from 2007-09, amassing 2,755 total yards with 15 touchdowns and was drafted by the New York Jets, where he played from 2010-12. In his three years with the Jets, he rushed for 502 yards and caught 19 passes for 177 yards. He returned 76 kicks, including two for touchdowns and returned seven punts.

McKnight played the 2014 season with Kansas City. catching two touchdown passes. In all, McKnight played in 41 games in the NFL.

He spent the past season with Saskatchewan of the CFL, catching 11 passes for 90 yards while rushing 38 times for 228 yards.

McKnight was never the shining star at USC or professionally that he was at John Curtis, where he was simply amazing. He was a big part of three consecutive state championships (2004-06).

I had the chance to speak with Joe on more than one occasion, including during a roast of J.T. Curtis. He was gregarious, pointed and even possessed a hilarious, pleasantly honest approach and points of view.

While the New Orleans area has produced better running backs, better receivers and perhaps better secondary members, I can think of no one in my 39 years of doing high school games that was a more versatile, more complete player than McKnight. I was blessed to be part of an eight person committee to choose the all-time 25th anniversary team for the “Friday Night Football” show which Ed Daniels and J.T. host.

“You know this because you were there,” Curtis said. “When it came time to choose the athlete spot on the all-time team, the most versatile athlete, all eight people agreed on Joe immediately. Joe was a brilliant player and person. We love his family, including his brother Jonathan, whom we had here. We weep for the family and pray for them.”

He will be missed greatly but he will never be forgotten.

Curtis hopes that the act perpetrated on McKnight is not forgotten but feels many have forgotten the concept of respect and love for our fellow men and women.

“We’ve got to get back to our God-given values, what we were founded on, especially human life and human dignity,” Curtis said. “It’s sad. You put things in perspective. There is so much evil in the world. We need to embrace the word of God and to forgive and to love one another.”

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Ken Trahan

Ken Trahan

CAO/Executive Producer

Born and raised in the New Orleans area, Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College Hall of Fame, Professional Bowlers Tour) and many state and local awards for his work in the field, Ken currently serves as Sports Director of WGSO, 990 AM and hosts award-winning shows, including Ken Trahan’s Original Prep Football Report and The Three Tailgaters Show with Ed Daniels and Rick Gaille. In 1988, Ken was chosen by the Professional Bowlers Association to receive its annual radio broadcasters national award for…

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