UNH QB Knight takes major step forward in junior season

  • University of New Hampshire quarterback Trevor Knight has improved his play so far this year. Courtesy

  • UNH QB Trevor Knight (center) has thrown for 10 TDs and two interceptions this year, leading the Wildcats to a 3-1 start. Courtesy

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Monitor staff
Thursday, September 28, 2017

He’s still wearing No. 18. He’s still escaping defenders with slippery quickness and high-end speed. He’s still got the big arm.

But the 2017 version of Trevor Knight looks, and plays, differently than the quarterback who started for the University of New Hampshire last year as a sophomore.

“I feel really good about Trevor’s growth right now,” UNH Coach Sean McDonnell said.

He should feel good about it. In Knight’s first four games last season, he was a combined 58-for-103 for 604 yards, six touchdowns and five interceptions, and the Wildcats were 2-2. Through the first four games of this season, Knight is 81-for-131 for 1,017 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions, and the ’Cats are 3-1.

Some of that improvement is simply the natural progression of a maturing college player. But Knight has also put in the time, and overtime, it takes to excel as a quarterback at this level. The kid from Amherst and Nashua South worked on his mental game, his body, his connection with his receivers and whatever else the coaches have asked of him.

“Trevor is pretty smart, and he really cares about football,” said Ryan Carty, New Hampshire’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. “He watches a ton of film and he’s always in for extra stuff, so it was no surprise that he went upwards.”

The most important, and noticeable, improvement for Knight is his poise. Last year he was too quick to leave the pocket, too eager to make plays with his legs, too hungry to go downfield with the long ball. Now, he’s relaxed when he drops back. He’s taking what the defense gives and he’s willing to dump the ball off or even throw it out of bounds when necessary.

“I’m really just much more comfortable in the pocket,” Knight said.

His coaches agree.

“Most importantly he’s not trying to do too much and really playing within the play call,” Carty said. “And then when it does break down, when I put him in bad situations, that’s when he has done a really nice job of making them into okay situations, sometimes great ones, but he’s not trying to do that on every play. Just trying to make the easy ones when they give them to us and when they don’t, going and being yourself, because he is a tremendous athlete, so when he does improvise, it’s usually fairly good.”

That ability to improvise was on full display when Knight threw for his third touchdown last week against Rhode Island. A pack of Rams surrounded Knight as he searched for a receiver in the middle of the fourth quarter. It looked like a sure sack, and maybe worse, but Knight ducked under one defender, shuffled away from the rest and finally found Malik Love for a 24-yard touchdown that gave UNH a 28-14 lead, a score that stood until the final whistle.

“I saw the guy coming, he was coming free, so I just kind of ducked. A guy that big, I don’t really want to get hit by him … I’m not a very big guy, so I don’t like getting hit by big guys,” said the 6-foot, 206-pound Knight.

Knight learned that lesson the hard way last year. He was dinged up for most of the season and had to sit out the first-round playoff game against Lehigh after getting knocked out of the regular-season finale against Maine in the first quarter.

He didn’t want to suffer through another season of injuries, so he spent a month this summer at the EXOS Athletes Performance Institute in San Diego. He improved his diet and adjusted his workout routine to help him avoid injuries before they can even happen.

“He’s in the best physical shape of his life. He’s strong, thick and really took care of his body,” McDonnell said. “He’s eating right and doing all the little things well that you need to do to be a good player at this level.”

Knight was named the Colonial Athletic Association co-Offensive Player of the Week on Monday after his performance against URI – 23-for-34 for a career-high 420 yards and three touchdowns, and a rushing touchdown for good measure. He could go off again this week when the No. 15/14 Wildcats host Bryant (2-2), a team that is allowing 42.3 points per game and scoring 32.3 ppg.

“It’s kind of exciting, at least from an offensive standpoint, that they’ve put a lot of numbers up and the people they play also put a lot of numbers up,” Knight said. “So if it ends up being a shootout, we’ve got to perform and execute.”

But this Knight won’t force the shootout. The new, mature 2017 Knight will stay cool and take things as they come.

“I’m definitely a lot more relaxed this year,” Knight said. “I’m not a young guy playing. I’m one of the upperclassmen, so it’s my team now. It feels good just being the guy out there.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)