At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Bryan Knight is big enough to be a solid running back or wide receiver. But he doesn't play either position.
Knight, a former St. Joe's standout, is a starting sophomore defensive end for the University of Pittsburgh. A remarkable feat considering this is the first year he's played the position since high school. It's even more amazing that he can play it at all given his lack of bulk.
But his size -- or lack thereof -- wasn't a problem last week when he was causing problems for the Penn State offense. He turned in several big plays during the Panthers' nationally televised game against the Nittany Lions. None was bigger than his interception that set up a tying field goal late in the third quarter. Joe Paterno's second-ranked Lions eventually escaped with a 20-17 win.
Knight finished the day with four tackles, but applied pressure to the Nittany Lions' quarterbacks all afternoon.
"I thought I played a pretty good game and made some plays," Knight said by telephone this week. "As a team, we played real hard. We wanted to show we can compete with Penn State."
The Panthers were more than just competitive. Their defense held the Nittany Lions to their lowest rushing total (65 yards) in nine seasons.
Knight's role in that did not go unnoticed by Pitt's coaching staff, who named him one of the team's top players of the game.
"Bryan was a lot smaller when he came to us, but he's really ballooned to 225 pounds," Pitt head coach Walt Harris said, laughing. "To see him be able to take on big offensive linemen is amazing. But fortunately for us, he's a good player. He's real strong and the defensive coaches put him in good positions to make some plays."
Knight was quite a playmaker at St. Joe's. He earned first-team All-Western New York honors at tight end as a senior, but could have easily made it as a defensive player. There are some who believe to this day that Knight, not Buffalo News player of the year Frank Pavicich, was the area's best prepster in 1997.
Knight was recruited to Pitt to play wide receiver, but the coaches decided there was no future for him at that position. Little did the coaches know that he felt the same way.
"The funny thing was Bryan came to us and said, 'I don't want to break you guys' hearts, but I don't want to be a receiver. I want to rush the passer,' " Harris said.
"I told them I wanted to play defensive end," Knight said. "I'm more comfortable there. It's the most physical position on defense. There's a constant pounding, and you're more involved in the running game. When it's time to pass rush, it's just all out to get to the quarterback."
Knight arrived on campus weighing 194 pounds, so he was redshirted in order to get stronger and put some meat on his bones. He made his debut last year, but as an outside linebacker. He played every game and recorded 37 tackles (24 solo), including a career-high eight against Syracuse and Temple.
Knight finally got his wish to play defensive end the following spring and won the starting job during preseason camp. He currently leads the defensive line with 14 tackles.
Although he acknowledges a little more weight wouldn't hurt when battling 300-pound offensive linemen, Knight has survived so far with quickness, long arms, technique and, above all, strength.
"I'm a lot stronger than I may look," said Knight, one of Pitt's strongest with a 385-pound bench press. "I like to use my strength and wingspan to bench-press guys off my body. That's important because when you've got offensive linemen coming at you, you have to be able to hold your ground. If you know how to use your hands and get leverage and if you're technically sound, weight doesn't matter a whole lot.
"But I'm still working on getting bigger. (Strength and conditioning) coach Buddy Morris has me on a strict program that has me eating and lifting constantly. I'm gaining size while still retaining my quickness."
Knight will have another chance to show his stuff on national television Oct. 7, when the Panthers host Syracuse in a Thursday night game on ESPN. The contest will feature fellow Buffalo native Malik Campbell (Turner/Carroll), who plays wide receiver for the Orangemen.
"It will be great for Buffalo and Western New York to have two local guys playing in the same game," Knight said. "The exposure will be good for the area and our programs. I hope we both do well, but in Malik's case, not too well."
Campbell catches on fast
Speaking of Campbell, it appears he is happy with his decision to give up basketball. He is getting a lot of playing time with SU's football team. Coach Paul Pasqualoni raved about the 6-3, 195-pound sophomore's great hands and big-play ability during the preseason, and Campbell hasn't disappointed in the first two games.
He leaped over two defenders along the sideline for a 36-yard catch in the Orangemen's season-opening win at Toledo. He added a 46-yard grab in last Saturday's 47-7 rout over Central Michigan in the Carrier Dome. Both plays set up touchdowns.
"Malik Campbell is still in the learn-the-system process because it's really his first year," Pasqualoni said during his weekly conference call. "But he's working real hard and we like him a great deal. He's a very talented young man. He's played quite a bit, and I expect that will continue as he gets more comfortable with the position."
SU has its first big test of the season Saturday when sixth-ranked Michigan visits the Dome.
Format change concerns Boyes
The NCAA has expanded the Division III playoffs from 16 to 24 teams. The winners of the 15 conferences now get automatic bids, leaving just nine at-large spots open.
Buffalo State usually doesn't have to worry about getting a bid, but coach Jerry Boyes is concerned because some very good teams like his that aren't affiliated with leagues could be left out.
"I'm not necessarily one of those people who feel just because you win a conference that it should be an automatic thing," Boyes said. "Having been on the (selection) committee, the job in the past was to come up with the four best teams in each region to ensure a quality tournament. It remains to be seen if that will be the case now, particularly when conferences send teams that have never even been considered before because of strength of schedule and the league."
The Bengals play a challenging schedule each year, which should help. It didn't matter two years ago when they were snubbed despite an 8-2 record. But given last year's impressive postseason run, the committee has to consider State is if reaches eight or nine wins again this season.
Slaying the two-headed monster
After Mark Nachreiner's performance in place of injured Bryan Roland last week, Canisius suddenly finds itself with two reliable quarterbacks. With Roland (St. Joe's) on the sidelines with a lacerated chin, Nachreiner (North Tonawanda) came in and completed 6 of 10 passes for 50 yards and accounted for two touchdowns in a 26-14 win at Rochester. Roland had thrown a pair of TD passes before leaving the game.
The two-quarterback system has become very popular in college football, with teams like Penn State and Arizona leading the way. But it's not a philosophy Griffs coach Chuck Williams adheres to.
"There are some great coaches who believe in that, but for myself, I don't think it's the way we want to go," he said. "Bryan and Mark give us a luxury we haven't had in a long time, and that's two excellent quarterbacks who bring something different to the table. But we will continue to go with one starter and play the other if the situation warrants it."