Anthony Knighton, a graduate of Fort Pierce Central High School is currently attending Southern Illinois University (SIU) where he was named as a finalist for the Jerry Rice Award. Weighing in at 246 and clearing six feet by two inches, this defensive end from Fort Pierce, Florida set SIU freshman records and led all MVFC freshmen in sacks (6.5) and tackles for loss (11.0) this season.
Knighton finished 11th in voting among the elite group of final contenders being considered for the Jerry Rice Award. This award, named for the renowned Hall-of-Famer credited by many for being the greatest wide receiver, is given to the Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) player of the year. Knighton is credited with 28 tackles (21 solo), 9.5 TFL, 1 PBU, 5 QBH, and 1 FF (9 games). He received recognition as a first team FCS freshman All-American by HERO Sports and was designated the runner-up for the Missouri Valley Football Conference Freshman of the Year Award.
His high school coaches were not at all surprised by these recognitions and stats. Josh Shaffer, Knighton’s former head football coach at Fort Pierce Central High School said, “Anthony is an intelligent, hardworking young man. It does not surprise me to see him excel at such a high level. His humble nature allows him to focus on achieving excellence. He has consistently made his former teachers and coaches proud.”
Shaffer’s sentiments were echoed by Central’s Athletic Director Peter Crespo. “We are very proud of Anthony Knighton for being nominated for this award; however, we are not surprised. His character on and off the field exemplifies what every student athlete should strive for.”
What is surprising is the fact that Anthony almost hung up his cleats before heading into his high school senior year. According to Knighton’s mother, there was a stand-out coach who motivated her son back onto the field. “Coach Kappler saw something special in Anthony,” explained Shontay Marshall-Smith. “He had a way of connecting with him like no one else could. When ‘Ant’ needed that extra inspiration to dig his heels in for one more season, Coach Kap was there.”