November 12, 2008

Practice Insider: McKnight handling adversity

On the field, sophomore running back Joe McKnight is liable to bounce off tacklers like they were made of rubber, springing loose for big plays.

And, Pete Carroll said, it turns out McKnight can't be kept down off the field either.

McKnight returned to the practice field Wednesday after missing Tuesday's practice to attend memorial services for his paternal grandmother, Estoria McKnight, who passed away on Tuesday, Nov. 4.

McKnight got news of the passing Saturday before the Trojans took the field against Cal.

"I'm just trying to get over my grandmother's death," he said. "We were close. I knew her my whole life. I grew up with her.

He attended Monday's practice before making his first trip home since December 2007.

A myriad of ailments, in addition to his unexpected trip home, have kept McKnight off the field this season.

He dislocated his elbow, had his fingers slammed in a door, suffered from migraine headaches and missed time due to turf toe, in addition to being one of the many early-season casualties due to jock itch.

"I've tried not to think about it," McKnight said. "I've been trying to keep a positive mindset on everything.

"It's been kind of frustrating. I just can't let it get the best of me."

McKnight said he's never had a season where he's been so plagued by injuries.

"He's had a lot of little things nagging at him," Carroll said. "I talked to him today about having to go home because his grandmother passed away, and that's just another thing for him to deal with and understand and put into some kind of perspective."

Carroll said that McKnight's handled this latest bout with adversity just like he handled the elbow, the smashed fingers and the turf toe.

"He's lived through some hard stuff and some hard times. He's pretty hardened about some things," Carroll said. "He's always had a forward-looking approach. He doesn't stay dragged down by it. He bounces really well."

More family matters

Senior defensive tackle Fili Moala said he missed Tuesday's practice to be with his ailing father who may have suffered a stroke early in the week.

"My dad's in the hospital right now. He's all right, but he's not doing too well. I've been trying to get up there to visit."

Moala's very close with his entire family, and his father's recent health issues haven't been easy on him. Making matters worse, Moala's been battling a groin injury for the better part of two months.

"I just can't stop thinking about my mom and the pain on her face," he said. "I got problems with my body that I'm trying to deal with right now. I haven't really been 100 percent for two months now.

"I think this is the toughest, mentally, that I've ever been challenged."

Carroll said Moala's play has not been affected, but his demeanor has shifted.

"I think he's pressing some right now to be his very best as he finishes up this year," Carroll said. "He's playing great and busting his tail. His giving great effort, but stuff mounts.

"This is an enormous thing for him."

Extra Points

• Defensive tackle Averell Spicer was very active in Wednesday's practice, and Carroll said he'll be ready to play Saturday at Stanford. Jordan Campbell (ankle) and D.J. Shoemate (shoulder) did not participate Wednesday.

• Wide receiver Ronald Johnson said he expects to see Stanford's veteran secondary play him with some man-to-man coverage.

"I haven't seen man coverage since Oregon State," Johnson said. "I can't wait for that. It's been a while."

• Carroll praised the passing game for a particularly sharp red zone session during Wednesday's practice.

• Carroll addressed the last season's loss to Stanford with his players Tuesday, telling them the media would be asking plenty of questions about the upset.

• McKnight said he could sense running back Broderick Green was going to transfer.

"When things don't go someone's way, they might get discouraged. I kind of figured it out by his body language," he said. "I don't understand, and I don't have any similar feelings. I feel like if you came way out here from home, why wouldn't you stay out here and battle it out?

"That's what I would've done."

• McKnight refuted a published report that he missed the Washington game because of academic reasons.

"If I wasn't academically eligible, I wouldn't have played last week," he said.


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