Terrance Knighton's time has finally arrived
The two defensive tackles had formed a close bond over the course of the season, with Knighton helping ease the rookie's admittedly slow transition to the pro game. Knighton considers the younger player something of a brother, and that day, he took him to pick out shoes.
In the store, televisions quietly broadcasted the news. As Williams perused, he noticed that a sports segment had begun, and then he saw Knighton's face, and then ... "Turn up the TVs," Williams told the store clerks, and they did. "That's this guy." He pointed at Knighton, who could do little more than shrug.
"I'm a humble guy," Knighton said. "I don't really need a lot of attention. Just him being like a little brother to me, I'm pretty sure he enjoyed it, and that motivates him."
This is the lesser-known side of the player affectionately known as Pot Roast who's lumbered into the spotlight this postseason, a 6-foot-3, 335-pound quote of a man with a nickname straight out of central casting. We've heard about the moniker -- Knighton was a quick decision away from being known as Shrimp Alfredo -- and seen his impact on defense, but this is another thing all together. This is Pot Roast the mentor, the sounding board, the player who's been served adversity on a heaping platter -- and he's happy to talk all about it.
He's the kind of star Super Bowls mint in January: talented, overlooked, funny.
This star-making has been a long process, though, and it hasn't been easy. Knighton's first four seasons in Jacksonville, a cradle of NFL dysfunction, are common knowledge, as are his battles with weight and the 2012 eye injury that nearly ended his career. Those are just the latest, though, the final hurdles before Pot Roast burst onto the national scene.
Before Jacksonville, before those treadmills and shards of glass, there's another chapter, the story of a kid who couldn't catch a break and what he achieved in spite of it. It's ready-made inspiration, a football fairy tale, except this princess is hulking and square, goateed and overflowing from his jersey.
When Terrance Knighton arrived at Milford Academy in New Berlin, N.Y., in 2004 to play his senior season of football, he wanted to line up as a tight end or receiver. Yes, the man whose hips are so wide they cause teammates to pause in awe wanted to catch passes. He wanted to run. Coach Bill Chaplick wouldn't have it, though, and he convinced Knighton to focus on defense. Knighton acquiesced, and he got better. He got really good, in fact, Chaplick said, only it was a few games too late. Knighton had two offers in hand, one from Temple, the other from the University of Central Florida, but toward the end of his senior season, bigger schools started to notice. The University of Miami, in particular, became a fan, Chaplick said, in part because teammate Antonio Dixon had signed there. Problem was, the Hurricanes were out of scholarships.
Timing had become Knighton's worst enemy.
In the end, the defensive tackle was Temple-bound after failing to qualify academically at UCF, and there again, he was a bit too late, or perhaps a bit too early. The 2005 season, Knighton's freshman year, was Temple's first after being kicked out of the Big East. The school had come close to cutting its football program, then-coach Bobby Wallace believes -- "When you're the coach, and the president asks you what to do with players if there isn't a football team next year, you've got to feel there's a chance [there won't be]," he said -- and recruiting was a nightmare. Wallace was left with players like Knighton, who couldn't qualify, who were perhaps too small or too fat or too something, and as a result, they went 0-11 in 2005. The next year, with Al Golden as coach, the Owls improved, but barely, to 1-11. In Knighton's final two seasons, the team combined for nine wins, certainly better, but far from awe-inspiring.
By the time Knighton entered the NFL draft, Temple hadn't had a player picked since 2005, four years earlier. That had been the end of a streak in which the Owls had at least one player picked in four out of five drafts, and by 2011's draft, they were producing NFL talent once again. Knighton's four years were the program's worst stretch. Timing, timing, timing.
In spite of it all, the Jaguars selected Knighton 72nd overall in the 2009 draft, earlier than most expected. On paper, he was a risk. He was too heavy, for one, and hailed from a program not known for churning out early-round talent. Things started out slowly, but the rest is history. After four years in Jacksonville, Knighton wanted out, and the Broncos didn't have to offer much. A two-year, $4.5 million deal was all it took to bring him to Denver, where he quietly burst onto the scene.
In September, Knighton's space in the back corner of Denver's locker room was distant real estate. As fall descended, his booming lisp could occasionally be heard during media availability, and by Thanksgiving, all bets were off. Denver, at least, knew what it had. On a shaky defense, Knighton was solid, and on the quietest days in the locker room, he'd entertain a stream of cameras and recorders. It was building, building, building, the myth of Pot Roast -- the wide-hipped defensive tackle whose favorite movie, Matilda, is something of a fairy tale itself -- until it exploded the afternoon of the AFC Championship.
"Terrance really responded at a time when we needed him the most," Broncos defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, who was Knighton's coach for three seasons in Jacksonville, said. "We lost five or six key guys throughout the course of the year. ... Basically it became, 'Look we really need you to step up and not just play well. We need you to step up and lead.'"
For once, timing was on Knighton's side, and with the Broncos defense posting its best four games in the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl, he's gained the attention his teammates know he's deserved all season.
"Now he's finally starting to get the notice," Williams said. "He should have gotten it a long time ago. He's a great player."
For years, Chaplick has wondered what if. The Milford Academy coach is still struck by how much Knighton improved in his senior season, still saddened that it came too late. "If he'd just gotten a little better sooner to that point," Chaplick wonders, "he'd have been at Miami, and who knows what could have happened?"
That question had reason to haunt Knighton as recently as a year ago. What if? What if attending Miami would have made him a higher draft pick? What if he hadn't had to slog through those four years in Jacksonville? What if the eye injury had never happened? What if, what if, what if?
None of it matters anymore. Dixon, the highly touted Milford teammate who attended Miami, went undrafted the same year Knighton was picked in the third round. Jacksonville was terrible, but it was motivation to bolt, and Knighton did. The struggles were for something, after all, and now the Super Bowl sits days away from Knighton's grasp.
The timing couldn't be better.