Football brought Demetrius Knox from Ohio to Fort Worth at the advice of an uncle who believed his young nephew’s best chance at a scholarship from Big Time U would come in the football-rich Lone Star State.
Guess who’s back this week for the 82nd annual Cotton Bowl? Bingo. But the Knox who has returned this time isn’t the same player as he was as recently as last season.
He’s essentially the same size as junior as he was as a sophomore, massive. Oh, but Knox has grown.
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Given an opportunity to push his way to the top of the depth chart, Knox did in mid-October. He has been the fifth-ranked Buckeyes’ starting right guard since, and will be again Friday against No. 8 USC.
Late-bloomer? Maybe not, but Knox has definitely come at his own pace and that’s OK. Knox, inspired by the meaning of team, has caught up.
“Just a little bit,” he said.
First things first, though. College football players are, technically, student-athletes, and Knox has whipped the student part. He needed only 3 1/2 years in Columbus to earn his degree in sports and industry with a minor in business.
Grad school is next.
Watch out, Aaron Beck. Someone is gunning for your job as All Saints’ athletic director and football coach.
“I want to get into coaching and then become an athletic director at my old high school,” Knox said.
Beck has time, as Knox plans to let football take him as far as possible. At 6-foot-4 and 308 pounds, he has plenty of size. Throw in a set of skills that allowed him to land a scholarship from The Ohio State and become a starter, he should be able to put together a nice résumé for the NFL.
But it wasn’t until Branden Bowen broke his left leg Oct. 7 against Maryland that Knox jumped into the starting mix. He wasn’t on the two-deep depth chart for the Maryland game but topped it the next Saturday at Nebraska.
On his way up, though, he heard from his fellow offensive linemen — a group headed by center Billy Price, the Rimington Award winner — and was inspired by their unit-first, team-first message.
It’s not that Knox, who missed much of 2016 with a broken foot and then struggled in the national semifinal against Clemson, was a selfish player before that meeting, but something resonated.
“Big time,” he said. “After Bowen went down with his injury, they told me the goals that we had on the team and their goals for the future. I was just like, ‘Dang. It’s not just I’ve got to step up and fight for a spot, it’s, ‘Dang. I’ve got to step up so we can go and win a ring.’ ”
The Buckeyes won the Big Ten Conference title, but learned the next day they wouldn’t be in the College Football Playoff. Instead, Ohio State scored a marquee matchup at AT&T Stadium against another tradition-rich program.
Knox did his part to keep the Buckeyes in the mix. He graded out as a champion, the highest grade Buckeyes coaches give players, after his initial start and in the final four games.
After a summer camp in which he just missed landing the starting job, opportunity knocked for Knox.
“With an injury, the door swung back open and he came out and played some tremendous football,” offensive coordinator Kevin Wilson said. “Very, very proud with the way Demetrius has come on. He has been a very pleasant story for this football team. I’m very proud of him. I know he’s excited to be back down here in Fort Worth in his backyard.”
Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer has been around long enough to know that players come at their own pace. Some, like freshman tailback J.K. Dobbins of LaGrange, star right away.
Others are like Knox, who saw an opportunity in his junior season and seized it. And that works, too.
“I think everybody’s path is different,” senior quarterback J.T. Barrett said. “With his time at Ohio State he’s definitely grown and gotten better and been able to mature as a person and as a football player. When he’s gotten his opportunity to play this year he’s definitely done his best with that. I wouldn’t say he’s a late bloomer, but he’s definitely grown as time has gone on.”
Said Knox: “Coach Meyer always says in our program, ‘It’s never too late.’ Some guys, like, J.K., they come in at 17 and 18 years old and get the MVP of the Big Ten Championship Game. I wouldn’t take back the fight to where I am today, though.”
No. 8 USC vs. No. 5 Ohio State
7:30 p.m. Friday, ESPN