The football world was shocked Thursday with news of the shooting death of former USC and NFL running back Joe McKnight in suburban New Orleans during an apparent road rage incident.
McKnight was a do-it-all star for John Curtis Christian in River Ridge (La.), where he played running back and wide receiver on offense, safety on defense and returned kicks. As a senior, he was named to the American Family Insurance ALL-USA first team as a defensive back and led the Patriots to a 14-0 record, the Class 2A state title and the No. 2 ranking in the final USA TODAY Super 25
“As a player, he was probably the most versatile player I’ve had,” McKnight’s high school coach, J.T. Curtis, told USA TODAY Sports. “He was a guy who excelled in all areas. He was an outstanding running back, a guy who played in the secondary and a tremendous returner. He could do all of that and did it with passion.”
As a senior, McKnight had nine rushing touchdowns, eight receiving touchdowns and four special teams scores. He also intercepted a pass on defense.
He was widely regarded as the No. 1 player in the Class of 2017 and chose Southern California on National Signing Day. He played three seasons at USC before playing for the New York Jets and Kansas City Chiefs.
Curtis said McKnight’s sense of humor would occasionally drive Curtis crazy, but McKnight frequently came back to John Curtis to train and spend time with the school’s students. Curtis described McKnight’s death as “like losing part of the family.”
“He was a guy who would lighten up the room with his smile,” Curtis said. “He had a great love for kids. As a pro player, he would make time for kids at the school. He was also an inspiration to our players to watch him train so hard so he could come back.”
Still wondering how great McKnight was in his prep prime? Just check out his senior highlights, which will make it clear why local LSU fans were so crushed when he chose the Trojans over three years in Death Valley:
Curtis said a lot of people don’t know that McKnight’s playing career was considered over when he tore his Achilles tendon in practice after two games in Kansas City in 2014. McKnight would not play in the NFL again and appeared in five games in the Canadian Football League this season.
“That would have ended most people’s careers,” Curtis said of the injury. “But he came back and worked really hard to do that and to have his live end so tragically is just tragic. There’s no other way to put it.”