COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Trevor Knight walks in and offers his right hand for one of those handshakes they should teach in every MBA program. Firm—but not crushing—grip. Solid eye contact. Wide smile. This is how it starts. Within five minutes, you'll be ready to follow him anywhere.
Former UCLA, Washington and Colorado coach Rick Neuheisel, in town to interview Texas A&M luminaries for a show on SiriusXM, is entranced. "There aren't enough daughters for you to marry," Neuheisel says. The Oklahoma-turned-Texas A&M quarterback laughs. It is not a fake laugh, though Knight probably has heard some variation of this joke 457 times.
Nothing about Knight registers as fake even though all the nice things written and spoken about him suggest some sort of concerted effort to be everything to everyone. But that's not it. It just so happens that Trevor Knight is that dude. "It's like we've been knowing him all our lives," Texas A&M offensive tackle Avery Gennesy says. Says receiver Christian Kirk: "It felt natural since the first day he stepped on campus. It already felt like he had been here for multiple years."
In case we haven't done enough to establish that Knight is a swell guy, let's peruse some of the highlights of his CV.
- He won the starting quarterback job at a blueblood program as a redshirt freshman.
- He helped raise money for a family that had lost its daughter to cancer.
- An international pop star has asked him to call her—right down to the thumb-as-earpiece and pinkie-as-receiver hand gesture—on national television.
- Nothing has happened with the pop star, but he is dating an heir to a duck call/reality TV empire who sends him brownies. (Update: Sadie Robertson told FOX411 that she and Knight recently ended their relationship.)
- He has been on three relief trips to Haiti. He went on another one in May. He was going to go with his former Oklahoma teammates unless some of his Texas A&M teammates chose to come along. Some of the Aggies' best players —including defensive bookends Myles Garrett and Daeshon Hall—joined Knight.
- He beat Bama.
This last item powers the fountain from which hope springs in College Station. Because Alabama has lost so infrequently these past few years, we can't help but remember the names of the quarterbacks who have beaten the Crimson Tide. Chad Kelly. Cardale Jones. Dr. Bo. Trevor. Nick Marshall. Johnny Football. Alabama stands between the teams of the SEC West and the national titles their fans expect every year. Beat Bama, and there's a chance. Trevor Knight has beaten Bama—in the Sugar Bowl following the 2013 season, to be precise. Therefore, the Aggies have a chance. Just watch this. Watch him beat that Bama team all over again. What could go wrong?
The Aggies do have a chance, right? There are two Texas A&M quarterbacks on that list. Problem solved, right? No need to discuss the fact that with the exception of Jake Hubenak, who started last season's Music City Bowl, the quarterbacks who succeeded Johnny Manziel in College Station now play for other college teams. Right? OK, maybe we should discuss it. Do try to keep up. This could get confusing.
Kenny Hill just got named the starter at TCU. Kyle Allen is impersonating Oklahoma's Baker Mayfield—the guy who beat out Knight in Norman—for Houston's scout team while he sits out his NCAA-mandated year-in-residence. Kyler Murray is at Oklahoma impersonating Houston starter Greg Ward Jr. This sounds like either the best or the worst reality show on MTV. Imagine how the producers would have handled the scene where Knight and Hubenak and Allen hung at the lake a few months ago. Would the claws come out? They didn't in real life, because discord seems incapable of existing alongside Knight. "We're all buddies," Allen says.
This sounds so perfect, and we haven't even mentioned that the Aggies have one of the nation's deepest and most diverse receiving corps. Kirk and Speedy Noil can pop the top on a defense or turn a slant into a touchdown with a broken tackle. Josh Reynolds is 6' 4" and nearly as fast as the first two. Ricky Seals-Jones is a 6' 5", 240-pounder whose reputation has suffered because he wasn't a clone of Mike Evans. How Seals-Jones has measured up to his recruiting hype probably won't enter the mind of a safety getting boxed out 12 yards down the field on third-and-10.
Everything seems so ideal. So why does Kevin Sumlin's status as the Aggies' coach keep getting discussed on talk radio? By any measure, this team on paper is the best Sumlin has had since he took over at Texas A&M—and the Aggies joined the SEC—in 2012. Quarterback was the raging question mark after Allen and Murray left within a week of one another in December. Knight came. Offensive coordinator Jake Spavital was fired, and a longtime friend of Sumlin, Noel Mazzone, came from UCLA. So everything should be perfect. Right?
This probably isn't fair to Knight, but it's the truth. How this season goes rests largely on his shoulders. And while he did beat Bama, he also started other games for Oklahoma. Some of them did not go well. He completed only 14 of 35 passes and threw two interceptions in a 37–33 loss at TCU in 2014. Two weeks later against Kansas State, Knight had an otherwise excellent game (26–32, 318 yards, three TDs) but threw this horrendous pick six that made a huge difference in a 31–30 loss.
That November, Knight would complete 12 of 27 passes for 146 yards before being taken off in the fourth quarter of a 48–14 loss to Baylor. That season would end with Knight completing 17 of 37 passes for 103 yards and throwing three interceptions in a 40–6 Russell Athletic Bowl loss to Clemson.
Was this all Knight's fault? Probably not. Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops clearly thought it had something to do with playcalling. Otherwise he wouldn't have fired co-coordinators Josh Heupel and Jay Norvell and brought in Lincoln Riley to run the offense. Knight would have gotten his chance with a new scheme had walk-on/force of nature Mayfield not wrestled the job away from him. And who would argue with the choice? Mayfield led the Sooners to a Big 12 title and a berth in the College Football Playoff. Yet even after Mayfield was named the starter, Knight's teammates still elected him captain. Like everyone else, Knight had dreamed of multiple national titles and a Heisman Trophy. After beating Bama, that seemed possible. "That's not real life," Knight says now.
The respect Knight won in the locker room, in the weight room and on the practice field gave him options when he decided he would leave Oklahoma and finish his college career elsewhere. Stoops would have released him to play anywhere, including a Big 12 rival. "He's a guy who worked too hard for us and was too positive for us to not have that option," says Stoops, who isn't sure he'd open the intra-conference option for just any player. And Stoops loves the pairing of Knight and former Oklahoma assistant Sumlin. "I couldn't be happier for a guy we love around here," Stoops says. "He really worked hard. I'm elated. I'm his biggest cheerleader."
Knight had options. When the San Antonio native initially decided to transfer late last fall, he called Texas A&M. Reminded that Allen and Murray were on the roster, he began looking elsewhere. Auburn wanted him. So did LSU. (Seeing a theme here?) Then Allen and Murray left College Station, and suddenly Texas A&M wanted him, too. "The stars just kind of aligned perfectly," Knight says.
It's unclear whether Knight's decision helped lure Mazzone or Mazzone's decision helped lure Knight. Given the fact that their official announcements came four days apart in January and Sumlin's insistence that there was "a plan," it's likely they helped lure one another. "He brought some maturity into a situation that needed maturity," Mazzone says of Knight. "He brought some leadership into a situation that needed leadership." Because Knight was the new guy the players dealt with first, Knight helped teammates accustomed to Spavital's offense learn Mazzone's offense before Mazzone could coach the offense on the field. "He kind of paved things over," Mazzone says.
Now, with UCLA coming to Kyle Field on Saturday and the meat grinder of the SEC West schedule looming, all Knight has to do is play like the guy who beat Bama and save everyone's job. Did that sound too melodramatic? OK. Let's just leave this quote from first-year Texas A&M athletic director Scott Woodward right here: "Patience is something we don't have a lot of, nor should we. In my opinion, 8–5 needs to get a little better. We need to come out of this plateau."
Woodward didn't say this off the record. He said it into a hot microphone. This is the current state of affairs in College Station, and Knight is the primary unknown variable. He is a fine leader and a delightful human being. Now he finally has another chance to show what kind of quarterback he is. "He fills a void that we needed at that position. He's not just a placeholder. He's an older guy who knows what it looks like and has been in big games," Sumlin says. "We fill a void for him as a place that gives him a second chance and a chance to prove he can play on a big stage."