Friday Night Hero: Salisbury’s John Knox
By Nick Bowton
A typical Salisbury football game features a lot of running backs Dario Hamilton and A.J. Ford, a little bit of fullback Isaiah Whitaker and maybe five or five pass attempts. Seven if coach Joe Pinyan is feeling frisky.
Not exactly the ideal situation for a quarterback, so you can imagine how John Knox felt Friday when the Hornets attempted nine passes ó in the first half.
A part-time quarterback as a freshman last season, Knox has command of Pinyan’s option offense and has also shown he can do more than hand the ball off, pitch it or run it himself. He went 7-for-9 for 176 yards in the first half of a 45-21 victory against West Stanly and finished 7-for-11.
“It felt great throwing the ball,” said Knox, also a guard on the varsity basketball team. “Teams expect the run, so we aired it out and that opened our rushing game more. It always gets me excited when they call a passing play.
“I just take every opportunity I can to complete a pass.”
Those opportunities don’t come often at Salisbury.
Through four games, Knox is 15-for-31 for 352 yards and four touchdowns. A third of those attempts and half of the yards came Friday.
“The most important thing for John is just to make smart decisions,” said quarterbacks coach Chip Pickard, who played quarterback in a similar offense when Pinyan coached at Mooresville. “I know he wants to throw the ball. Friday night we threw more than we have, and he got into a groove. As everybody knows, we have Dario and A.J. We’re a running team ó John knows that.
“But when he gets the opportunity to pass, he knows we expect him to make good decisions.”
The coaches expect good decisions out of Knox in the passing game because they’ve already seen his ability to make good decisions in the rushing game.
Pinyan rattles off all the different option packages Salisbury runs and trusts Knox’s ability to command each one.
In short, Knox decides where the ball goes.
Pinyan said Knox’s mastery of the midline option ó a play between the quarterback and the fullback ó is superb.
“When we run the option, it’s all in his hands,” Pinyan said. “When we run the midline, we don’t know who’s getting the ball. As far as quarterbacks I’ve been around, by far, the five years we’ve been here, he runs the midline option better than any of them.”
Take, for example, the Lexington game last season. Knox reeled off two runs of more than 30 yards. Both times Pinyan thought the fullback had the ball.
Knox said he doesn’t think too much on the field but, rather, just trusts his reactions. He has to react quickly when deciding whether to leave the football in the fullback’s gut or snatch it back before Whitaker takes hold.
“A lot of kids don’t want to be in that position because there’s a fine line in there that he’s got to make a decision that ball’s mine or his,” Pinyan said. “In the mix of all those linemen in that close quarters there, you can’t make a mistake.”
Knox hasn’t made many this season. He’s helped guide Salisbury to an undefeated record and hasn’t thrown a single interception.
He’s thankful for the opportunity he had to throw the ball last week but knows not to expect a repeat performance every game.
“After the game I was still shocked,” Knox said. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, I can’t believe we threw it that much.’ “