After wrapping up his prolific linebacking career at Iowa State in 2012, Jake Knott has spent time with both the Eagles and the Dolphins in the NFL. As he rehabs his ailing knee, he was gracious enough to spend some time with us. So step into the lounge, pull up a chair, grab a drink and join the conversation with one of the all-time greats to don the cardinal and gold.
WRNL: Let's start with your time at Iowa State. You had a boat load of crazy highlights over your career, is there one that stands out to you the most?
Jake: Probably the interception at Kinnick in 2012. The tipped ball against Oklahoma State in the second overtime was great too, but it's hard to beat the pandemonium of the Cy-Hawk Series. For it to be senior year and silence thousands of Hawkeye fans, it doesn't get much better than that.
WRNL: That kind of answers my next question, but do players feel all that hate like the fans do, or is it just another game to them?
Jake: I definitely felt it and I think any player from the midwest or anyone that was recruited by both schools definitely feels it. Some of the kids from Texas or California take a little while to fully buy into it, but once you've been through one of those games, you definitely feel the rivalry.
WRNL: Is there a team that us fans really wouldn't necessarily consider a rival that the players didn't like?
Jake: Nobody really liked going against Texas Tech, especially us as a defense. They always had some linemen going down field and cut blocking and doing some things that could be considered dangerous or cheap. So we always had some extra juice going against them.
WRNL: Plus you had to go to Lubbock of all places. Yikes. Speaking of which, did you have a favorite and least favorite place to play outside of the Jack?
Jake: Texas A&M was always nuts. The fans there with the 12th man and the Yell Leaders and stuff get so loud and into it that it makes it really fun. Oklahoma always had great fans and atmosphere too. I guess it's probably easy to be a nice fan to us though when they were kicking our butts. Games like that made you appreciate Iowa State fans though. That we can get that same sort of support regardless of record or expectation. It really is a special place.
As far as least favorite places to play, I'm sure some guys would say KU or Tech, but really I kind of liked that. When a school doesn't get great fan support it gives you an edge as the road team. It's like you already have a leg up on them, so I always appreciated that little edge they gave us. The worst was Yankee Stadium for the Pinstripe Bowl. Glad that was just a one time deal.
WRNL: Football in a baseball stadium and a bowl game in the snow? I imagine that wasn't all that enjoyable. That whole season was kind of crazy for both you and the program. Without bringing up too many bad memories, what goes through a player's mind when dealing with an injury like you did your senior year?
Jake: When you first get diagnosed with an injury like that, so much goes through your head. Can I make the injury worse by playing? How will this affect my career goals? Will this require surgery? At first, I found out that I wasn't going to make it any worse and it was just a matter of dealing with pain, so I decided to give it a go. Eventually, I had to make the tough decision to either keep playing and deal with the pain, or hang it up, get the surgery and heal up for Pro Day. That's an incredibly tough decision to make, but I had to do it.
WRNL: It couldn't have been easy to not play the rest of that season as the team chased bowl eligibility, but you were still around the guys and practices and I'm sure you still served in a leadership capacity. Did the players see the breakout performance by Sam Richardson (at Kansas) coming? We, as fans, had only seen him minimally in game situations, but you guys saw him every day. Was it just a matter of throwing him out there?
Jake: You know, we all had confidence in Sam. He was kind of the opposite of Steele in that he was just so consistent in practice. He wasn't making the crazy plays that Steele had become known for, but you knew what you were getting with Sam. Captains and seniors kept reiterating to him that he needed to keep studying and he needed to be ready because his time was coming. We all thought that his consistency on offense would be a great fit with that team given how the defense was playing, and we all thought that he would get that opportunity at some point in the season so we stayed positive with him and helped him prepare to be the starter the best we could.
WRNL: Given how positively your career is remembered, is there anything you wish you could have done differently? Or some bit of advice you would impart on new Cyclones to help them in their careers?
Jake: I would say there's two things really. The first would be that I wish I had learned how to properly take care of my body in order to get the most out of it earlier than I did. I didn't start making a true point of that until senior year when I would say I was playing my best ball. As a student athlete you spend so much time in class, in the film room, at practice, and in the weight room that it's imperative that you learn how to eat right, and really set up a proper regimen for managing your body and getting your sleep so that you can perform your best. Doing all your stretching, and making sure you get your sleep and eating properly can be a really big pain in the ass, but at the end of the day, if you really want to be the best player you can be, these are all things that you have to do.
Secondly, I'd say that it's extremely important that players learn the concepts of the game and all the things that Rhoads and Burnham are teaching. So much of my career success can be attributed to Wally's teachings. I learned how to be in the right place at the right time and that can help you overcome so much of those "measurable" type disadvantages. You don't have to have the highest vertical, or longest broad jump and wingspan to be a good football player. Understanding the game, knowing where to be and what your role on the field is can make you a good football player. They teach that so well at Iowa State and it's important that the players fully buy into it.
WRNL: Speaking of that, there's been a lot of talk on the "culture change" surrounding the program this year. Can the fanbase really put stock in that?
Jake: Absolutely. I've been around practices and fall camp this year and there's definitely a change from previous years. Guys are battling for positions, the right leaders are stepping up and the tempo and intensity is back. Paul hasn't necessarily changed in his approach, but his best teams are when the players are buying into everything and that really seems to be back this year. Back when I played, you'd never hear someone say that they went into a game expecting to lose. We bought into the game plans and prepared in such a way that we knew if we executed like the coaches were intending, we could beat anybody on any night. That's the only way you see games like the one against OSU in 2011. You can see the physicality, intensity and belief in winning games is back this year and I definitely think that will help them be successful.
WRNL: What's it like watching your brother don the cardinal and gold now?
Jake: Man, it's awesome. Obviously it's hard watching him deal with some injury issues, and I know exactly what he's going through, but watching him grow and develop makes me so proud. Coming in as a high school quarterback and transitioning to a Big 12 linebacker is no small task. Luke's a hard worker though and I think that's showing on the field. There's a lot of great moments coming for Luke and it's fun to watch as his older brother.
WRNL: Do you still keep in touch with other Cyclones in the NFL after graduation?
Jake: Absolutely. I worked out with Jeremiah George this last off season, and a lot of us are still really close. Josh Lenz and AJ Klein are still some of my best friends and a lot of us are taking turns in each others weddings recently. I still keep in touch with guys like KO (Kelechi Osemele) and Leonard Johnson too. It's a larger fraternity of Cyclones in the NFL than people give us credit for, and we all do our best to support each other.
WRNL: Speaking of AJ, who would win a wrestling match between the two of you?
Jake: I would die before I let him beat me. You could ask him that same question and I'm sure he'd tell you that I'd win too. He knows that.
WRNL: Let's talk a bit about the NFL. Did you go into the draft expecting to get drafted, or were your more prepared to take an Undrafted Free Agent role?
Jake: I really did think I had a good chance of getting drafted and it still hurts to this day that I didn't. Obviously, it was great to get the chance with the Eagles, and even if you get drafted there's no guarantee of a roster spot, but I really thought I was good enough to be drafted and it still eats at me a bit that my name wasn't called.
WRNL: I couldn't agree more and I think all of Cyclone Nation would back me up in saying that your name should have been called. The Eagles end up picking you up though, and you head off to training camp. What was the biggest shock you got from your first training camp?
Jake: It's like going up against a roster of the best players you've played against every day and every snap. There are so many physical freaks that if you take a single play off it's so easy to get embarrassed. All of the guys are ridiculously good football players. They're so smart, and physically gifted and they're all trying to get a spot on the same 53-man roster, so the competition on each and every play and in every drill is insane.
WRNL: What was the biggest adjustment for you going from the college to the pro game?
Jake: There's nobody monitoring you anymore. It's all about self management. You have to find your own off-season program to make sure you come into camp fit and ready. You have to take care of your body on your own and build your own schedule and support system to help you succeed. All the coaches and staff are there to help you learn, but there's no baby sitting. If you don't take the initiative to make yourself better, they'll just cut you. There's so many gifted football players that never made it in the NFL because they couldn't handle that responsibility.
WRNL: What's been the best and worst part of your NFL experience thus far?
Jake: The best part has been getting to play the game I love for a career. So many people would kill for that opportunity, and at the end of the day, regardless of all the stress or tough situations that I've faced, I'm still playing football for a living and it doesn't get much better than that.
The worst part has probably been the stress. Whether it's picking up and moving on a minute's notice, or learning how to deal with business decisions and not take it too personally, it's just a really stressful and hyper-competitive environment. You know, there's no "orientation" program like you get at college. There's no easing into it. From day one, you're often away from your family and established support system and you either learn how to deal with it or you get cut. On the positive side, I've learned a lot from this hyper-competitive setting that will help me later on in my career after football, but coming into the league it's a pretty intimidating situation.
WRNL: Do you have any plans yet for after your playing career?
Jake: Not yet. I'll definitely have to take some time and figure out what I love doing and what I can be successful at. But at the moment, having a steady 9-5 job and being able to go home to your family and not stress about work every night sounds pretty good to me. I've thought about coaching, but that's living sort of the same lifestyle I'm living now, and that's a decision I'll have to make when that time comes.
WRNL: For all of us Dolphins/Cyclones fans out there (and there's not many), is there a chance you head back to Miami after your rehab? Also, is Ryan Tannehill the real deal? He's getting pumped up by the media this year, but can we really be that optimistic?
Jake: Well with the injury settlement rules, I probably won't be back there this year, but who knows about the future. I'm just working on getting my knee healthy for now and then we'll just see what happens.
As for RT17, I think he's definitely ready to break out. He's been pretty good the last couple seasons and he's definitely one of the good guys in the league. I got to play against him at A&M and it's crazy to see how far he's come as a quarterback in such a short amount of time.
WRNL: Alright, just a couple more random questions here before we wrap this up. Who's a player throughout your career that you hated practicing against?
Jake: I had a love/hate relationship practicing against KO. He was so physical and nasty to practice against that it was never fun. It was great though because he really prepared you for what you were going to face come game day. He really made us better as players because we had to learn how to get off his blocks and get around him, but it was definitely never "fun."
WRNL: Who was the hardest player you had to tackle?
Jake: Probably Demarco Murray. I, for one, was not at all shocked to see him have the year he did last year when he was finally healthy. He's just so big and physical and he's hard to wrap up. It seemed like no matter how hard you hit him, you just bounced right off.
WRNL: Are you willing to go out on a limb and make a record prediction for Iowa State this year?
I won't go out so far as to put a number on the wins, but I definitely think they're going to a bowl game. I think there's a lot of potential on that team and if they keep practicing like they are and buying in to what the coaching staff is teaching them, you'll see them in the post season.
WRNL: Jake, thanks for taking the time to meet with us today. It's been great catching up and we look forward to watching your career progress.
Jake: Absolutely, Go Cyclones!