Miami Hurricanes offensive lineman Hunter Knighton is making strides toward finally playing in a college football game.
For Knighton, it has been a much more difficult journey than most who accept a football scholarship to play at a Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) program.
Knighton, who was redshirted during his first season at Miami in 2013, sustained a heat stroke at practice Feb. 24, 2014 and has not been able to return to an official practice since.
“On February 24 my football career at the University of Miami was unfortunately derailed after being taken to the hospital following a workout,” Knighton said in a statement released that April, adding he sustained a 109-degree body temperature. “The results were not good: brain swelling, multiple seizures, kidney and liver failure. Unresponsive, I was placed on a ventilator for twelve days during which time I fought one of the greatest battles of my life against a loss of blood platelets, double pneumonia, and fever.”
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Though still not totally cleared by team doctors, Knighton is taking steps in the right direction.
“I will be returning to practice this August for camp,” Knighton wrote recently in a Facebook post. “So close to becoming the first [Division I] player to return from a catastrophic heat stroke.”
On Thursday, Knighton, a 6-6, 300-pound redshirt sophomore, was tossing passes to youngsters during the third of four community outreach events the UM football team is hosting at local parks in Miami-Dade and Broward. The Hurricanes ran youth football players through a series of drills and signed autographs at Betty T. Ferguson Park in Miami Gardens.
Knighton was not made available for interviews by UM, but fellow lineman Alex Gall expressed appreciation for his teammate’s battle.
“I think that him coming back is pretty crazy,” said Gall, a 6-5, 307-pound junior. “That’s just something really tough to see that happen to someone and wondering if they’re really going to be alright. Everyone was really worried about him and everyone was praying for him and hoping he’d be able to come back and not have any serious issue.
“Everybody is just really happy that he’s been able to overcome all the problems that he’s run into.”
Multiple teammates have mentioned that Gall has emerged as a leader on the offensive line, a unit that lost three starters to the NFL: Ereck Flowers, Jon Feliciano and Shane McDermott.
“Coming out of spring, I think we did a good job of just starting to play together because none of us have really played together,” Gall said. “We have basically a new line of guys. We’re trying to bring each other together, get on the same page, get all our calls right so that there’s no fall-off from last year.”
Gall has been practicing primarily at left guard and is working on getting quicker on his feet. He’s down to 307 pounds, which is where he says coaches want him to be.
Gall said one fresham lineman who has impressed him is Tyree St. Louis from IMG Academy.
“He’s a big kid, he’s got a lot of length and he’s got pretty good technique,” Gall said. “He’s trying to figure out our system, but once he gets that, he’s going to be a great player.”
One major challenge for UM’s offense is trying to replace the productivity of running back Duke Johnson, who now plays with the NFL’s Cleveland Browns.
Though many assume Gus Edwards and Joe Yearby will be the 1-2 punch simply based on their playing time last season, Trayone Gray insists it’s a four-man race for reps as he and incoming freshman Mark Walton will also be in the mix come fall camp.
“We feel like we’re just reloading,” Gray said.
Gray enters his sophomore season with a lot of raw running ability, which he displayed from the quarterback position at Miami Carol City. But work with running backs coach Tim “Ice” Harris has improved his fundamentals at running back.
“I’m running like a true running back now,” Gray said. “My footwork got better, running low, ball security got better.”
Gray said he has also worked on improving his pass-blocking.
THIS AND THAT
If sophomore receiver Braxton Berrios continues to develop chemistry with quarterbacks Brad Kaaya and Malik Rosier next season, one factor could be them living together.
The trio room together in a house off campus.
“We get closer because we’re around each other all the time,” Berrios said. “Will it translate onto the field? I guess we’ll see, but they’re my good friends. It was kind of right to room with them. It had nothing to do with wide receiver-QBs.”
Another area with a ton of chemistry for the Canes: defensive backs. They have a core of juniors and seniors returning.
“It’s good to get that feel,” senior cornerback Tracy Howard said. “You know how they’re going to react to certain situations and you know how to communicate with them. We don’t let each other slack. We hold each other accountable.”
Senior defensive tackle Calvin Heurtelou, who started last season as a junior-college transfer, says the confidence he has developed since arriving at UM is what has contributed most to his success.
Heurtelou added that nose guard Michael Wyche is making tremendous strides in offseason conditioning and that defensive line coach Randy Melvin has the front four playing with more active hands.