AMES — When adversity hit Luke Knott last season, he could have let it lead him on two different paths. Upon suffering a season-ending hip injury half way through last year, he could have let that define him as a player or he could fight his way back.
The sophomore linebacker chose that second option and is returning to the field this season feeling as good as ever.
“I always looked at it as you can always get something you love taken away from you and it just builds that fire in your stomach,” Knott said. “Going through the rehab process, which is not a very fun process, makes you respect the game a lot more.”
The Lee’s Summit, Mo., native and brother of former ISU linebacker standout Jake Knott was having a productive season before he suffered the injury. Knott played in six games and started five for the Cyclones, registering 45 tackles with 26 being solo.
He posted six tackles including a tackle for loss against Baylor, but that ended up being the game where Knott’s season ended and forced him to have surgery to repair the injury to his hip.
While he recovered from surgery in the offseason through rehabilitation, Knott also focused on improving himself mentally to be a more rounded player the next time he saw the field.
“Obviously when you’re not out there getting physical snaps, the best thing you can do is get mental snaps so paying attention in meetings, learning stuff from the other guys and talking to the other linebackers when they see a unique look from different teams in the Big 12,” Knott said.
Since he missed all of spring ball as well, Knott was itching to get back on the field in the fall. And through two weeks of fall camp, Coach Paul Rhoads didn’t see anything wrong with Knott’s toughness on the practice field despite going so long without seeing any physical reps.
“He’s had a couple stiff days where the hip has got a little tight on him, but he’s been able to play through that and it hasn’t been anything that’s kept him out with those reps [in fall camp],” Rhoads said. “He continues to get back in fashion and form and fitting and understanding.”
On the first day of fall camp, defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Wally Burnham named Knott specifically as a player that stood out after practice was over. The jury is still out however on if Knott will start as he goes through a competition with senior Jevohn Miller for the top spot at weak-side linebacker.
Burnham hasn’t seen any problem with Knott physically through fall camp and said both Knott and Miller will see the field when Iowa State takes on North Dakota State on Aug. 30.
“[Knott] can make plays out in the open field, but come North Dakota State, they’re going to have two backs in there and Jevohn is bigger, stronger and can take on those lead blocks, power blocks and things like that,” Burnham said. “I don’t know which one will start.”
But for Knott, just being able to get back out on the football field feeling 100 percent was one of the biggest goals he had all along.
“I was talking to my parents last night actually saying I feel better right now at this point in camp than I did my freshman year in camp,” Knott said. “Obviously I feel better than last year too, which is good for me.”
ISU DEPTH CHART: LINEBACKERS
SLB Drake Ferch, sr., 5-11, 209; MLB Alton Meeks, red-shirt fr., 6-3, 244 or Kane Seeley, so., 6-2, 236 or Jordan Harris, jr., 6-0, 244; WLB Jevohn Miller, sr., 6-1, 241 or Luke Knott, so., 6-0, 219
SLB Jared Brackens, sr., 6-1, 213; WLB Levi Peters, so., 5-11, 216
For the first time in the Paul Rhoads era at Iowa State, coaches are searching for a guy they can rely on every snap at middle linebacker.
After the graduation of Jeremiah George, three players are vying for the starting role. Alton Meeks, Kane Seeley and juco transfer Jordan Harris are all in a competition to trot out onto the field with the first-team defense.
Defensive coordinator Wally Burnham feels this group of linebackers has the potential to be better than last year’s because of depth, with the exception of the lack of an experienced starter at the middle linebacker spot.
“Right now we’re not at that point in the middle and that’s a big worry,” Burnham said.
Drake Ferch has been a bright spot to the coaches at strong-side linebacker throughout the fall camp. The walk-on is ahead of last season’s Jared Brackens, and made the transition from learning safety in the past to now playing in the front seven. Ferch said he’s looking forward to the challenge of playing a little closer to the line of scrimmage.
“You just get a little more adrenaline I guess,” Ferch said. “You get a little more of a rush knowing you’ve got to be down in the box with the big boys and bow up with them.”
With the competitions going on at middle and weak-side linebacker, Iowa State has backups with some experience.
Jared Brackens started all 12 games at linebacker a year ago and was third on the team in tackles with 61.
Levi Peters played in all 12 games on special teams last season, but also saw action at linebacker. He totaled 15 tackles, one fumble recovery and one forced fumble for the Cyclones in his red-shirt freshman year.