Jeremy Harper: Fredi Knighten The Great


Fredi Knighten’s welcome to the Sun Belt moment came midway through the 2013 season-ender with Western Kentucky at Bowling Green. Starting QB Adam Kennedy had taken enough brutal hits during a long and bruising season. By the second quarter, Kennedy was out, and Knighten was in.

Before then, Knighten had been used sparingly, mostly in wildcat packages to take advantages of is speed. No one outside of first-year head coach Bryan Harsin had any idea if Knighten as capable of making the big time throws needed to lead FBS programs to victories.

But we wanted Knighten. We appreciated Kennedy – his grit, his size, his experience – but we wanted to know what we had in the undersized but speedy prodigy from Pulaski Academy. Knighten entered the game and immediately took the Hilltoppers out of their comfort zone. Western Kentucky was prepped for Kennedy’s big arm and pocket passing. Knighen could burn you with his legs, and he ran for a pair of TDs.

The limited playbook didn’t call for much passing (Knighten was 7/10 for 67 yards), but the future looked dynamic, despite A-State falling 34-31. When Kennedy was unable to finish the GoDaddy Bowl later that season, Knighten led A-State to a 23-20 win over Ball State.

The next year, Knighten was the undisputed starter, passing for 3,277 yards and 24 TDs. He also rushed for 779 yards and 11 scores, earning him Sun Belt First Team QB honors and another postseason trip to the GoDaddy Bowl. For 2015, injuries early in the season limited Knighten’s numbers, but he still passed for 1,835 yards and 19 TDs (400 yards rushing, 5 scores) and lead the Red Wolves to an undefeated conference season and a trip to the New Orleans Bowl.

Fredi Knighten ended his career 10th in the Sun Belt all time for passing TDs (46), behind A-A-State’s Corey Leonard (47) and the great Ryan Aplin (67). He is 18th for passing yards (5,371), also behind Leonard (7,319, 9th) and Aplin (10,758, 2nd). Knighten completed his Sun Belt career ranked 41st in rushing with 1,619 yards. Aplin is 36th, with 1,756 yards. Aplin took the Red Wolves to a pair of bowl games. So did Knighten, though he played in three. Aplin was the Sun Belt’s Player of the Year two times. In 2104, Knighten ranked 9th in the NCAA for total yards.

Both quarterbacks are among the program’s elite. In fact, Knighten and Aplin rate atop an extraordinary quartet of consecutive A-State quarterbacks: Leonard, Aplin, Kennedy and Knighten.

Knighten didn’t always endear himself to Red Wolves fans. He didn’t exhibit the fierce loyalty to A-State that some faithful demand from their student-athletes. He sometimes fumbled in big moments, distracting us from the big plays and huge wins he delivered time and again. But mostly, Fredi Knighten wasn’t Ryan Aplin, a quiet, tough-as-nails leader who guided the Red Wolves to relevance. Knighten, the McDonald’s All-American and prep-school dynamo, could never meet the unrealistic expectations of a fan base that has in many respects deitized Aplin.

One day, we will recognize Knighten’s achievements and abilities – we’ll look fondly on his speed, his surprising arm, his toughness and will to be elite. His undefeated conference season and gutty wins against Utah State and Ball State will go down as heroic feats in the Red Wolves archives. And we will then refer to him as The Great Fredi Knighten.

Fredi Knighten secures Sun Belt Confernce win for Red Wolves


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