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THE FLOOD started in the laundry room, then spilled into the den. When Joe McKnight, the offensive motor of unbeaten John Curtis Christian in River Ridge, La., realized he had overloaded the washing machine, he did what he tends to do in a tight spot: He asked his coach for help. "Well, let's get a mop," said J.T. Curtis. "Let's clean this up."
Curtis, 66, has been helping his star senior get his life in order since Hurricane Katrina forced McKnight, his mother, Jennifer, and his brother, Jonathan, 14, from their home in Kenner, La. Curtis invited McKnight and family--as well as two other displaced players, Darryl Brister and Jonathan English--to live with him and his wife, Lydia. (Jennifer and Jonathan have since moved to an apartment.) Curtis gives the players chores: garbage duty, dishwashing and laundry. "It's been an adjustment for the guys," says Curtis. "They don't want to make it look like they're the teacher's pet."
It would be hard for any coach not to be high on McKnight, who has helped the 10--0 Patriots rise to third in SI's national power rankings. At 6 feet and 190 pounds McKnight is perhaps the nation's most potent all-around threat (box, below), excelling at running back, wide receiver, cornerback, safety and kick returner. He's averaging 16.5 yards a carry and 36.1 yards a reception and, after a 39-yard touchdown catch in a 55--14 win over Pine (La.) High last week, has 19 TDs. On Sept. 29, against No. 1--ranked Hoover (Ala.) High (the school featured in MTV's Two-a-Days), McKnight had two TD catches and an interception in a 28--14 win. One Big 12 school has McKnight, who has run a 4.31 40-yard dash, ranked first in the U.S. at all his positions. McKnight says Florida State, LSU, Miami, Notre Dame and USC are on his short list of colleges.
McKnight, who does not have a relationship with his father, says Curtis "put me in a stable household; he's made a really big difference in my life." McKnight has been making a big difference for his coach--and will try to do so again against Donaldsonville (La.) High in the second round of the state playoffs this Friday.
Meet the nation's other top multipurpose threats
WILL HILL, St.
Peter's Prep ( Jersey City), Junior QB/SS/WR
Hillside ( Durham, N.C.), Senior WR/RB/SS/QB
KENNY TATE, DeMatha
( Hyattsville, Md.), Junior WR/RB/KR/SS