Georgia Tech’s Demetrius Knight takes familiar ride back to quarterback

When he was a linebacker in his first two seasons at Georgia Tech, Demetrius Knight occasionally liked to scratch his quarterback itch. It was the position at which he starred at Strong Rock Christian School.

“Even when I was at linebacker, I still found ways to throw just to check and see if I still had it in me just a little bit,” Knight said Thursday after the Yellow Jackets’ second spring-practice session. “And, of course, it was still there, and it’s always been there. So I was definitely able to jump right back on that bike.”

Knight is back riding the quarterback bicycle as a result of a position switch he voluntarily made from linebacker in December. The transfers of quarterbacks James Graham (to Georgia Southern) and Tucker Gleason (to Toledo) left coach Geoff Collins with three scholarship players at the position – returning starter Jeff Sims, backup Jordan Yates and early-enrollee Chayden Peery.

“So coach Collins brought me in and asked really what I wanted to do, what I wanted to play,” Knight said. “If I wanted to stick it out at linebacker or if I wanted to bring a little more heat or a little more excitement to the quarterback room. Playing quarterback is what I used to do and still love to do so. So I said, ‘Why not bring the old me back?’”

Knight was recruited to Tech by former coach Paul Johnson’s staff to play quarterback and stayed true to his decision through the coaching change, but was asked to move to linebacker. He played in 20 games as a backup the past two seasons, contributing heavily on special teams. One of the top athletes on the team and a weight-room fanatic – he was one of three players to be named an Ultimate Iron Jacket at the end of the winter lifting program – there could have been a future for him at linebacker.

Knight said that it hurt to move to linebacker. He spoke of the love for always having the ball in his hands. But he wanted to help the team and get on the field, so he made the switch.

But his fondness for quarterback never left. He had a taste at the end of last season, when the coaching staff created a package for him to take snaps. However, he didn’t get a chance to get on the field at quarterback.

“And I guess with that quarterback opening, I just felt like there was a call to bring the old arm back out again, take it off the shelf, put it back to work,” Knight said.

Having been at a different position on defense for the past two seasons, it figures to be a lengthy and challenging transition. But, Knight is not afraid of digging in and challenging himself. Even before spring practice began, he was doing extra throwing and worked on his agility by himself, in addition to losing weight to reshape his body to fit the position. A young man with a taste for the All-Star Special at Waffle House, Knight has surprised his mother with his commitment to healthier eating habits, like adopting a ketogenic diet and cutting down on gluten.

“He’s taking it up another level,” Stephanie Knight said.

At the same time, offensive coordinator Dave Patenaude has seen Knight dive into the offense to try to catch up.

Before the start of spring practice, “He was in my office a lot,” Patenaude said. “He asked good questions.”

Patenaude raved about his physical tools, namely a strong right arm and dynamic running ability, but also his command of the offense in the first two practices of the spring.

“In the first two practices, he did not look out of place at all,” Patenaude said. “He knew exactly what he wanted to do. He missed a couple throws, he missed a couple reads or whatever, but he knew where he wanted to go with the ball, and he’s looked really good.”

Knight would seem a candidate to contribute in a red-zone package.

“I definitely see myself in the red-zone, high red-zone area, finishing off drives,” Knight said. “Which, of course, is something that we’ve got to do.”

Tech ranked 12th last season in the ACC in touchdown percentage in red-zone possessions (56.7%). Patenaude mentioned it Thursday as one area that the coaching staff focused on improving at the end of the season. Having a quarterback with Knight’s speed, size and toughness could certainly be an asset.

“I can definitely see myself helping out the team in that way playing the quarterback position,” Knight said.

The long-term outlook is unclear, certainly, particularly as Sims seems lodged in the starting job. But college football can be unpredictable. Perhaps Yates, Peery and Knight can all take encouragement from the example of Mac Jones, the former Alabama quarterback who redshirted in 2017 when Jalen Hurts started, then was the backup behind Tua Tagovailoa in 2018 and 2019. In his fourth season with the team, Jones won the job in 2020, led the Crimson Tide to the national championship and is now a potential top-five draft pick.

After two days, Knight said the most difficult aspect was simply getting enough practice snaps, as he’s sharing time with Sims, Yates and Peery. Gaining an understanding of the offense has come more easily, as Knight hasn’t been afraid to look to Patenaude, graduate assistant Joe Battaglia, running-backs coach Tashard Choice and Sims and Yates for help.

It wasn’t the smoothest start Tuesday. Early in the practice, Knight said he did a somersault as he scrambled and was looking to pass.

“My brain was thinking throw the ball away, or trying to pump fake, but this is not basketball, and I ended up jumping in the air somehow,” Knight said. “I’m as confused as you are.”

The rest of the morning went much better.

“It was great to be back out there with the ball in my hands,” Knight said.