AMES — The cupboards were bare as Laura Knott put the finishing touches on a clean, soon to be vacant, kitchen in a nondescript apartment on Stanton Avenue.
She checked the garbage disposal.
She looked at her son, Jake, and laughed.
“Cleaning?” Laura Knott said less than two weeks ago. “He’d better make it big so he can pay me back.”
Jake Knott winced, but did not disagree.
The former Iowa State all-Big 12 Conference linebacker’s once-improbable journey toward the big time bumped into another milestone Friday.
It was the Philadelphia Eagles’ first full training camp practice.
And Knott, an undrafted free agent, not only hopes to make the team, he’s also determined to make a mark, even while leaving much of his external support system — from family to former coaches and teammates to his girlfriend — necessarily behind for now.
“I know this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Knott, one of seven inside linebackers vying for roster spots in Eagles camp. “That’s all the energy, the extra boost I need.”
He’s confident, but realistic.
It’s a combination that has served Knott well — in football and in life.
Just ask his longtime girlfriend, Johnnie Jindrich, of Muscatine.
“Our relationship really was growing as his stature at Iowa State was growing,” said Jindrich, who began dating Knott in 2010 and also graduated last spring. “I was just as big a fan as anybody else.”
Knott’s living out of the Philadelphia Airport Marriott now, just as he did for about 45 days earlier this summer through rookie camp, OTAs, mandatory mini camp and meetings.
He’s one of several Cyclones working to advance NFL dreams as camps heat up.
“It will be fun to watch,” ISU assistant coach Shane Burnham said.
The list of others includes fellow linebacker A.J. Klein, who was drafted in the fifth round by the Carolina Panthers.
“They’ll make their mark because they’re smart, they’re trustworthy and they play extremely hard all the time,” Burnham said of Knott and Klein. “They’re high-motor guys.”
Knott’s persistence propelled him to some work with the No. 2s in Eagles mini camp.
He said all the linebackers form a tight-knit group and all-Pro DeMeco Ryans serves as the obvious standard-bearer.
“He’s been doing it the right way all the time,” Knott said. “So you try to go up there and see what he’s doing right and model yourself after that, because that’s what helps you be successful.”
In football and in life.
Knott needed a little assistance to work up the courage to approach Jindrich for a date, too.
As freshmen, they shared an anthropology class, but few words — even though Burnham, as he puts it, was “working an angle” to bring Knott together with Jindrich, who babysat Burnham’s kids and also worked in the football office.
So Knott finally asked her to coffee on the last day of class.
She couldn’t, because of family and work plans that summer.
“What were we going to do, text all summer when we didn’t even know each other?” Jindrich said.
So no dice, Jake.
“Obviously, I’m a competitive guy and I was like, ‘This is no fun at all,’” Knott recalled. “I don’t know why I kept trying.”
Yes, he does.
“I just really lucked out with her being so gorgeous and beautiful,” Knott said. “That she actually has a personality to match that, which is few and far between from what I’ve seen.”
What’s all this got to do with football?
On the surface, very little.
Deep down, plenty.
Unconditional support brings the best out of people.
Knott’s no different.
“It wouldn’t have mattered if he was a stud football player or not,” said Jindrich, who began dating Knott shortly before he earned his first Big 12 defensive player of the week honors. “He was just really nice, probably one of the best guys I’ve ever met. He’s just really good at football, too.”
Good enough to go from two FBS-caliber offers — from ISU and Northern Illinois — to the relatively short list of the Cyclone program’s most-revered players.
Good enough to have a strong chance to be on the Eagles’ roster after the final preseason game Aug. 29.
That’s about the time Jindrich — a journalism and business double major with big dreams of her own — plans to come to Philly, if all goes as planned.
Nothing’s etched in stone.
In football or in life.
“She’s sacrificing a lot on her end to give me an opportunity to pursue football and still have her in my life,” Knott said. “It’s tough, but she’s sticking in there with me.”
Just like his former coaches, when few others did.
Just like his many fans, who started snatching up No. 20 jerseys as soon as they hit the shelves — and probably still will, even though he’s left town.
“I owe the people of Ames and the Iowa State community, as a whole, just about everything,” Knott said. “I’ll never really leave Ames, so to speak. This is always going to be a second home to me.”
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