When Texas A&M walked off the field for the final time in the Texas Bowl, there was obvious disappointment on players’ faces.
A slew of Aggies will graduate, including wide receiver Josh Reynolds, defensive end Daeshon Hall and safety Justin Evans. Others are leaving early for the draft, including All-American Myles Garrett and wide receivers Speedy Noil and Ricky Seals-Jones.
This was an opportunity for one last hurrah with a talented roster. It ended with a 33-28 loss to Kansas State.
“We really wanted it to be different tonight and send [the seniors] out on a really good note because of how they’ve represented the program,” Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “The message really was for the young players that this feeling that they have in that locker room right now, don’t forget that.”
But while he was only a recent addition to the program, it would seem to be an especially difficult loss for grad transfer quarterback Trevor Knight.
“Walking off that field for the last time, I wish it would have lasted forever because I don’t want to leave this game yet,” Knight said. “I don’t want to leave college football yet, but all good things come to an end.”
A Knight to remember
Knight was never supposed to be the starting quarterback at Kyle Field. That’s despite the fact the mammoth stadium is just 180 miles from his hometown of San Antonio. A former 4-star recruit, Knight was the next in line at Oklahoma. He led the Sooners to a shocking win over Alabama in the 2014 Sugar Bowl. His future seemed set in stone.
But when walk-on Baker Mayfield beat Knight for the starting job in Norman, things were thrown into limbo. After the 2015 season, Texas A&M lost 5-star quarterbacks Kyle Allen and Kyler Murray to transfer in a matter of weeks. Murray, in fact, transferred to Oklahoma.
An undergraduate transfer, Knight decided on A&M. The match was made in football heaven.
Even though the 2016 season in College Station ended with another 8-5 record, A&M fans should remember the rare stability Knight brought to the program.
Knight does not rank among the SEC’s most skilled quarterbacks. He leaves with only a 53.3 percent completion percentage and 6.9 yards per pass attempt with the Aggies. However, Knight brought a playmaking ability and excitement from under center that Texas A&M hasn’t seen since Johnny Manziel.
Against Arkansas in a big victory, Knight broke away for two rushing touchdowns and passed for two more. Texas A&M won 45-24 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. Knight also stretched out for a game-winning touchdown in the Aggies’ upset victory over UCLA in the opener. Great performances against LSU, Alabama and Kansas State were key to keeping the mismatched games competitive.
His performance was good enough to launch Texas A&M to the No. 4 seed in the College Football Playoff rankings following a 7-1 start.
Knight fall, and a new dawn
Once Knight injured his throwing shoulder against Mississippi State, the season tanked. Texas A&M lost because of a bad second half against the Bulldogs. The Aggies followed that up with another underwhelming performance against Ole Miss. Knight was hobbled in a 54-39 loss to LSU to close the year. His effect on the games was undeniable.
However, Knight’s greatest accomplishments lie off the field. It would have been so easy for Texas A&M to fall apart before the season. Throughout the offseason, articles were written about the Aggies’ fractured locker room after losing 10 stars’ worth of quarterback in a matter of weeks. Not long after, 5-star recruit Tate Martell flipped to Ohio State.
Highly touted players could have sabotaged the team from inside. A slew of talented 5-star wide receivers saw opportunities decrease with offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone’s new offense. Managing the balance between running backs Trayveon Williams and Keith Ford could have turned into a program.
But like at Oklahoma, Knight held things together in the locker room. There’s a reason that both Texas A&M and the Sooners hold him in such high esteem, even today. Knight brought stability and leadership to a Texas A&M program in desperate need of direction.
The quarterback room saw the most effect. In 2015, things were contentious with Murray and Allen competing for touches. It eventually saw both players leave the university for greener pastures.
Knight? He constantly goofed around with teammates Jake Hubenak and Conner McQueen. The trio even pretended to run for president as a joke.
“Looking back on my college career, it’s been perfect,” Knight said after the Texas Bowl. “A lot of you would think, ‘Why is it perfect?’ It’s because I’ve been fortunate enough to go through the ups and downs and have a faith that’s helped me through that.”
Knight was a golden ticket. He bought Sumlin time to figure things out, even after several years in the SEC. The Aggies now must take advantage of this rare gift, but Knight deserves to be remembered as an important figure in Texas A&M’s SEC tenure.