Da’Jon McKnight worked out and caught passes in front of several NFL scouts Monday at Minnesota’s Pro Day.
It was his opportunity to prove himself worthy of a potential spot on an NFL roster with the 2012 NFL Draft looming in April.
“I felt pretty good,” McKnight said after the workout. “I thought I could have done better, but overall I gave it my all and did my best.”
McKnight’s shot at the NFL is an opportunity he never would have dreamed of five years ago.
He graduated from Skyline High School in Dallas but didn’t play football until his senior year of high school because he was focused on basketball.
“It was my first love, so I thought that was going to get me where I needed to go,” he said. “But then I came out to football and [saw] that this is pretty good for me so I stuck with it.”
His current Gophers teammate, Troy Stoudermire, attended Skyline for one year. His football coaches asked him to convince McKnight to join the team.
“I had class with [Stoudermire] … and coach told him, ‘There’s this tall boy with waves in your class. I want you to try to get him out here to play football,’” McKnight said. “It got me where I am now so I’m glad he did.”
Stoudermire told McKnight it would be easier to get a scholarship for football because there are more spots on a college football roster than a basketball roster.
“I talked to him, but he went out there and did it,” Stoudermire said.
McKnight started on defense for Skyline and dabbled in wide receiving. He was given a two-star rating by Rivals.com out of high school and was offered a spot to play on the Gophers.
Stoudermire, Keanon Cooper and Spencer Reeves were also offered a spot by Minnesota from Skyline.
“We all had an offer from Minnesota, so we all decided to come here and play together,” Stoudermire said.
McKnight hardly saw the field in his freshman year, but he slowly developed into a key player on the Gophers.
He stepped up in his second season with the team and caught 17 passes after Eric Decker went down with a season-ending foot injury.
McKnight continued to grow and caught 10 touchdowns as a junior with Minnesota.
Stoudermire shared time with McKnight at receiver in the first two years of their career but switched to defense in 2010. Stoudermire said that switch sparked a friendly rivalry between the two of them.
“We used to always get at the [defensive backs] and let them know when we do one-on-one’s we’re going to kill them,” Stoudermire said. “When I switched over to [defensive back], we just started going at each other trying to get each other better.”
McKnight started all 12 games as a senior and was the go-to target for quarterback MarQueis Gray.
“He’s got the huge body frame,” Gray said. “He’s one of those guys that you know will go up and get the ball and block out the other guys.”
Despite leading the team in catches (51), yards (760) and touchdown receptions (4) as a senior, McKnight was not invited to the NFL Combine in February.
“It kind of lit a fire under me, but it is what it is,” he said. “I got an invite to the regional combine in Detroit at the end of March, so I’m going to do that and see how it goes.”
Minnesota Vikings general manager Rick Spielman was in attendance Monday and had his eye on local talent like McKnight.
Spielman said he discovered Vikings kickoff and punt returner and Minnesota alumnus Marcus Sherels at Pro Day two years ago.
“We really focus on trying to get the local kids in to give them an opportunity,” Spielman said.
Stoudermire said if an NFL team gives McKnight a chance, it won’t regret it.
“I think Da’Jon will be a sleeper because only guys who’ve been around him all the time really know what he can do,” Stoudermire said. “Whoever gets him is going to love him.”
McKnight said that his goal is to get on an NFL team and make his mom proud but that wherever he ends up, he’ll be happy he made the choice to play football.
“Coming in as freshman, I wasn’t really even on the board,” McKnight said. “As I got older, being behind [former Gophers receiver] Eric Decker helped me a lot, and I feel like I’ve progressed into a pretty good football player and a man, as well.”
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