REGINA – Through the first 13 weeks of the CFL season, Jeff Knox Jr., has made a name for himself with his sharp play on the field.
What may have been overlooked is his sharp tongue away from the game.
The Saskatchewan Roughriders’ linebacker is tied for the league lead in tackles with 75 and has been one of the few bright spots on an otherwise dismal season.
Story continues below
Redblacks beat Roughriders for third straight win
Dan Clark staying put after contract extension with the Riders
With the Montreal Alouettes (5-6) set to visit the Riders (1-11) on Sunday at Mosaic Stadium, Knox’s second calling as a motivational speaker may become valuable down the stretch for a team that could use a pick-me-up.
“I’ll throw in my two cents in the locker room from time to time, but we have other guys who will throw their two cents in as well,” said veteran linebacker Tyron Brackenridge. “Every little bit helps because it might be something you hear from another guy that enlightens you and opens your eyes to different things. (Knox) is that kind of guy.”
Following the Week 13 matchup with Montreal, Knox said he plans to pay a visit to his hometown in Pittsburgh and speak to approximately 150 kids who are involved in one of that city’s minor football leagues. Knox was raised in the inner city and faced several challenges in his young life, including getting kicked off his university football team as a freshman. Poor grades and questionable behaviour nearly lost him his roster spot as a senior.
That’s when Knox chose to take his life in a more positive direction.
The message he wants to share with the youth is the same one he’s trying to send to his teammates at the pro level.
“No matter what people tell you, no matter what people say about you, never give up on yourself,” Knox said. “You’re going to come across people your whole life that are going to tell you that you can’t do this or you can’t do that or that you’re never going to make something of yourself. In your heart, you have to write your own story.
“I come from a bad environment and a lot of us didn’t make it out of that. There are a lot of guys before me and probably a lot guys after me who were better football players than I am, but they’ll never get a chance to tell people their story because of the circumstances we live in.”
The Riders have experienced their share of adversity this season. A season-ending injury to franchise quarterback Darian Durant in the first week of the regular season cast a dark cloud over the team. Injuries to backup quarterback Kevin Glenn and a host of other key starters quickly led to a downward spiral and eventually to the basement of the West Division.
Despite the league’s worst record, the Riders remain mathematically alive in the playoff chase. They trail the Winnipeg Blue Bombers and B.C. Lions by just six points.
“In tough times, you really see the true colours of a man,” Knox said. “This is a tough time for all of us. We’ll see what we’re made of in the next few weeks. Right now, we’re sticking together and staying positive. That’s what we need to do.”
Brackenridge said the season has been a challenge and echoed Knox’s thoughts on testing a player’s true character.
“You might not win every day, but your mindset is to win every day,” he said. “It’s all about how you accept that challenge, that curveball.”
He added that Knox has the tools to rise above the adversity.
“Guys that work and play like he does make a name for themselves really fast,” he said. “He’s making plays and flying around the ball. Guys like him can stick around for a long time. Guys like him get an opportunity to go down south and play ball.”