Sumter High School linebacker Deshawn McKnight still has his senior year of football in front of him, but he didn't want to delay on making his decision on life after high school.
On Thursday, McKnight committed to play at Appalachian State, …
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On Thursday, McKnight committed to play at Appalachian State, because he knew he had found the perfect fit.
"To be honest, after talking to the coaching staff and really getting to know everybody and the relationship that we had, I felt like why would I pass up the opportunity to go to a great school and get a great education," said the Gamecock linebacker. "I'm big on family and they're a family-oriented school. I felt like that was the school for me.
"It's exciting, very exciting. It's really overwhelming, but I'm enjoying every moment of it."
Appalachian State didn't officially offer McKnight until April 30, but he's been in contact with the school dating back to September. McKnight had a chance to attend a Mountaineers game in the fall and got to see the 4-time defending Sun Belt Conference champions in person. The coaching staff has stayed in contact throughout the coronavirus pandemic, which helped McKnight feel at home with the program.
"I started talking to App State last year, like mid-September," recalled McKnight. "I went up there for a game and got to meet the players and the coaching staff. With the coronavirus, what's going on right now, they've been the one that's been keeping up with me a lot. I've been communicating with Coach (Justin) Watts and Coach (Dale) Jones, checking in with them every day."
McKnight has played both inside and outside linebacker for the Gamecocks, spending most of his junior season outside. He was fifth on the team in tackles last season with 51. He also had seven tackles for loss, two quarterback sacks and one interception and should take on an even bigger role as a senior after the losses of leading tackler Donte' Coleman and Kirkland Boone, fellow linebackers who both will be graduating. While he isn't sure how quickly he'll see the field at App State, McKnight is excited to make an impact in his final year at Sumter before heading off to college.
"The goal for me is to be a more vocal leader, to be very dependable for my guys," said McKnight. "I want them to be able to count on me to give my all every night, build a relationship with everybody, so we become closer and we can play as one; just to really show that Sumter is one of the best teams in South Carolina. We're really slept on. We've got a lot to prove to a lot of teams, but we want to do it the right way, which is being humble and still working every day."
McKnight's ability to play both inside and outside linebacker is also one of the many reasons Sumter head coach Mark Barnes thinks he has what it takes to shine at App State.
"No. 1, he's versatile. He's played outside linebacker for us, most likely going to be an inside linebacker for us this year and was an inside linebacker his sophomore year as well. Being able to play two positions is a good plus for him," said Barnes. "Also, he's physical. That's never going to be an issue with him. He runs well and has good ball skills as well. He's also done a great job in the classroom to prepare himself for this opportunity."
Shifting back to inside linebacker will also put him in more of a leadership role on top of being a senior for the Gamecocks. Being a leader is a little more difficult right now as spring and summer activities for football are a bit up in the air due to the coronavirus pandemic. McKnight is doing his best to make sure that his teammates are putting in the work now so they can shine when they're finally able to retake the field.
"I'm still communicating with my guys, making sure they're working, not just on the field, but schoolwork too," he said. "Making sure everyone is doing their job so when we get together, we can just roll."
After he's done at Sumter, McKnight is looking forward to having the chance to contribute to a winning program at Appalachian State.
"I'm just trying to go out there, play my best and give them my all," said McKnight. "I wanna be one of the best to ever do it when I leave there, but at the same time, it's not just about me. I wanna do what I can to help App State win, just going up there and showing that I belong and I can play with the best of them."
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