Marsha Sanders knows that math doesn’t come easily to Demetrius Knight and further realizes, not surprisingly, that he doesn’t like the subject. So the fact that Sanders raves about Knight, a Georgia Tech freshman quarterback, is telling, because the reason she knows about Knight’s math aversion is that she was his Algebra 2 teacher at Strong Rock Christian School.
It was Knight’s junior year at the Henry County private school. Knight came in before school for extra help. He was, in Sanders’ words, a model student in the classroom with his note-taking. He didn’t complain. He never gave up trying to absorb concepts that didn’t come easily to him. He wasn’t satisfied with merely learning enough to pass, but recognized that grasping the material would help him for college.
“He’s got a drive in him,” Sanders said.
A willingness to grind through algebra may not directly lead to All-ACC accolades when Knight’s Yellow Jackets career begins, but his diligence and attitude in the classroom might make him an example of a favorite saying of coach Geoff Collins – “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
“I tell you, he was a naturally gifted athlete, but he worked every day,” Strong Rock coach and athletic director Tommy Webb said. “He was always in the weight room, he was there all summer, he never missed a day. I’ve been there five years for football and four with him. He never missed a workout in the summer or during the school year. I never remember him missing a day of school, never missed a practice. So his work ethic was off the chart.”
Combine that determination and work ethic with his physical tools – a 6-foot-2, 222-pound frame, the ability to throw with accuracy, enough athletic ability to have played multiple positions in high school and what Webb said was a 40-yard dash time under 4.5 seconds – and there’s some material for a potential playmaker for the Jackets, at quarterback or somewhere else. Since he arrived on campus in early June, the possibility has arisen that he could move to wide receiver or defense.
Knight said he’d like to play quarterback, “but really, playing anywhere is where I’ll play. I won’t be that kind of guy to sit back, poke my lips out and want to transfer because I didn’t get the spot, or get mad at the coaches. That’s the name of the game. You’ve got to compete. You’ve got to bring it.”
Knight’s upbringing in Hampton explains his humility and drive. While he was enrolled at Strong Rock, where annual high-school tuition is $13,680, he and his younger sister Knyla have not lived an entitled existence. Knight’s parents Stephanie and Demetrius Knight have made considerable sacrifices for them to attend Strong Rock to prepare them for college and obtain diplomas.
Vacations are infrequent and modest. They don’t dine out often, though he is a Waffle House lover who can put down two All-Star Specials in one sitting. Birthday gifts aren’t extravagant. Knight has gone along willingly.
“He wanted a new phone,” said Stephanie, who works for a technology staffing company. “And he was like, ‘Well, I’ll just keep the old one,’ even though it’s shattered and cracked and rough, halfway working.”
Where the Knights once lived in a 3,600-square foot home in Hampton before a divorce in 2013, Demetrius, Knyla (pronounced “NIE-lah”) now live in a two-bedroom apartment in a duplex in Hampton, where Knyla and her mother have shared a room.
“My first reaction was, this is kind of smaller than what I was used to, but it’s still a roof over our heads and a place to sleep, so it would work,” Demetrius said.
In short, Knight is not much of a complainer. Webb, the Strong Rock football coach, said that he kept problems to himself “to a fault” and was invariably smiling.
“There was a joy in him each day that was genuine,” Webb said. “It’s hard to find in young kids today, and so to me, that’s what I see in him. He enjoyed every day and he made the most of every day, and he brought us along with him.”
Sanders, Knight’s math teacher, led school mission trips to Haiti and the Dominican Republic in Knight’s junior and senior years that he joined. The oppressive heat, the grueling labor and the different style of food made for optimal conditions for some teen whining, even in good nature, but Sanders said she never heard anything from him.
Instead, she saw him drawing the children in the villages they served to him and displaying an artistic side of himself through photography.
“I love all my students, I really do,” Sanders said. “But there’s just something different about him.”
Knight’s motivation to give effort and practice gratefulness derives from the sacrifices that he has seen his parents make for him and his sister.
“I feel I owe it to them to give my very best, since they’re give me all they have,” he said.
A life with some struggle, whether his parents’ divorce, math or a series of school switches before Strong Rock, has enabled growth for Knight, whether his parents wished him any hardship. Stephanie said she let him struggle through without swooping in to help.
It should serve him well at Tech, where another set of challenges awaits.
“I believe I’ll definitely be ready for anything that comes at me just by what I did go through, and seeing that from where I was to where I am now, that I’m OK,” Knight said. “Everyone else is OK. We’re all doing fine.”