Former Titan Player Joins Football's Dream Team : Hoping for a Big Break

Times Staff Writer

Quinton Knight has wanted to be a professional football player since his Pop Warner days.

The dream became even stronger when he entered Clearwater High School in Clearwater, Fla.

Knight was part of a Clearwater team that included Hassan Jones, now with the Minnesota Vikings, and Ron Moten, a sixth-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 1987. They had grown up together, hung out together and helped each other.

"Our senior year, my girlfriend became ill, so I wasn't going to the prom," Knight said. "Hassan and Ron called me up and said, 'You've paid for the suit, you have your ticket, you're going.' We had a great night."

Later that spring, Jones signed a letter of intent with Florida State. Moten chose the University of Florida.

Because of poor grades, Knight couldn't get into a university. Instead, Knight traveled to California and enrolled at Pasadena City College.

"Since I couldn't play at a big university like Hassan and Ron, the next best thing was to meet them in the pros," Knight said. "I told the guys I'd meet them at the top."

Knight, who played one year at Cal State Fullerton and another with an Arena Football team in New York, still is trying to make that climb.

On Saturday, Knight was among more than 200 hopefuls with similar dreams who turned out at UC Irvine for the sixth annual Pro Football Search, a daylong tryout session.

The camp is run by Tim Leedom. For $70, former college players were run through their paces while about 10 scouts from National Football League and Canadian Football League teams looked on.

"This is a good opportunity for me to see where I am with my training," said Knight, 25, who lives in Fullerton.

Attired in a New York Knight sweat suit and packing a pair of cleats, a jump rope and a container of Ben-Gay, he was hoping to catch the eye of a scout.

Any scout.

"This is a great opportunity for a player to get exposure," said Leedom, president and chief operator of the Irvine tryout. "There are around 1,500 jobs for (professional players) and only 250 or so open up each year. Any exposure helps."

Linemen were in the minority at the tryout. Most of the would-be players were quarterbacks, running backs and wide receivers in college.

It was hardly unusual considering the drills used are designed to judge speed, quickness and agility. Not exactly things associated with linemen.

Knight, with the number No. 771 pinned to his shirt, lined up for his turn in the 40-yard dash. He came out of a three-point stance, arms pumping, muscles straining, face contorted, demanding the most out of his body. After four steps, he was at full speed.

"Needs to lose some of that fat," one scout said.

Scouts weren't there to judge heart.

At 260 pounds, Knight has the bulk to play on the defensive line. But at 6-0, he is considerably shorter than what National Football League teams are looking for in a pass rusher.

"I see guys who are 6-foot-8, 280 pounds getting drafted, but they don't have the heart," Knight said. "I have the heart. I know I'm not the stereotype defensive lineman. But if I get a chance, I can prove that I can play."

He had heard that the Edmonton Eskimos of the Canadian Football League were in need of defensive linemen. So Knight viewed Saturday as almost a private tryout.

"I'm not here to work out with these other guys," Knight said. "Ray Newman is here to look at me."

Newman has been a scout for the Eskimos for the last 11 years. He is in charge of scouting players in the United States.

Newman said that 95% of the players he signs have at least experienced an NFL camp. It's something that Knight doesn't have on his resume.

After playing two years at Pasadena and another at Sam Houston State, he transferred to Fullerton and was a redshirt.

"It was tough that first year with no scholarship," Knight said. "You always like to know where your next meal is coming from."

But his play in practice was impressive enough to earn a scholarship.

"Quinton had about nine jobs that first year," Fullerton Coach Gene Murphy said. "He was really working hard--at jobs, in practice and in school. We had to put him on scholarship."

Knight, playing nose guard, led the Titans with nine sacks in 1986. He also had 57 tackles, despite numerous nagging injuries.

The next spring, Knight left school a semester short of graduating and signed a contract with the Toronto Argonauts of the CFL.

"I went to a tryout session in Detroit and they really liked me and signed me to a two-year deal," Knight said. "Two days before I was to leave, they called and said that they had oversigned and I was released.

"I didn't know nothing about agents or things like that. I had just signed a professional contract and didn't know the terms. My girlfriend and I were just getting things together and Toronto messed everything up."

When the Arena Football league was formed, Knight expected to be protected as a regional draft pick by the Los Angeles Cobras. But the Cobras left him unprotected.

"That really made me mad," Knight said. "So I went to the league tryout session to show them they were wrong. During the one-on-one drills, I destroyed everybody."

He was the first lineman drafted by the Knights and ended up second in the league in sacks.

And he led the league in flamboyancy.

After each sack, Knight would go into his act, dancing over the quarterback, pointing his fingers as if they were guns and aiming at his victim.

"It's like the Wild West," Knight said. "You're either dead or alive, no in between. Well, you were either standing or laying on the ground."

Arena Football suspended operations for a year, leaving Knight with a wife, a 3-year-old daughter and no job.

"You have to pay the bills and take care of your responsibilities," he said. "There's a lot of stress in any relationship. You have to understand what is expected of you, otherwise things can fall apart."

Nothing has fallen apart for Knight, yet. But things aren't going well either.

"Let's just say I'm still married and leave it at that," he said.

Knight said that he intends to return to Fullerton to complete his degree. He was a criminal justice major, with hopes of becoming a police detective.

"I've worked 9-to-5 jobs, there's got to be something better in life," he said.

Like football.

He plans to attend a San Diego Charger tryout on

March 27.

"I think Quinton has an advantage because he played Arena Football," Leedom said. "There's a green door. Those who have had professional experience are inside. Those who don't are outside."

Knight spent the morning at Irvine waiting for his turn. The time gave him a chance to reminisce with friends he hadn't seen in a while.

He talked with Cliff Madison, a quarterback who also played at Pasadena, and a couple of former Fullerton players. He also talked with friends he has met at other camps.

They have a common bond: to get noticed.

"There's a fine line between desire and obsession," Leedom said. "I had this one guy from Vancouver call me Friday to ask about the tryouts. I told him to fly into Orange County airport because it was close to UC Irvine. He said he was driving. He spent 16 hours in a car and got here at 4 a.m."

For some, it's hard to know when to quit. They travel from tryout to tryout, hoping that sometime, somewhere, they'll get the big break.

"There's this one guy who shows up every year from New York," said former NFL player and coach Tom Fears, an Irvine tryout official. "He's intelligent, but has no talent. I don't know why he keeps coming. It's nice to see him, but there comes a point when you have to wonder about some of these guys."

Knight said he will never reach that point and will quit before that day comes.

"In my heart, I'll know when it's over," Knight said. "My heart deals with reality."

His head handles the dreams.

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