Troy Knox operates under one general speed – somewhere between energized and frenetic.
He’s the one radiating good cheer, bounding across the Folsom High School campus like a 5-foot-8, 175-pound pinball shot out of a cannon.
If not for a mandatory team bus ride to Pleasant Hill this Saturday to face De La Salle in the Northern California Regional Open game, the Bulldogs’ coaches aren’t so sure the most prolific receiver in NorCal history wouldn’t just jog to Diablo Valley College in Contra Costa County to burn off steam.
“It’s true,” Folsom co-coach Troy Taylor said. “Troy’s everywhere. He’s like a golden retriever, chasing the ball until he passes out.”
For a young man who can’t stand still, football serves as an ideal fit. Good luck wearing him out.
What does Knox, a senior, do after practice? If he’s not pulling tractor tires across the turf in the heat of summer, he and teammate Will McClure are working out with heavy-duty rubber band ropes to build leg strength in recent weeks in the night chill.
“Finally, it gets to the point we have to say, ‘OK, that’s enough. Go rest,’” Folsom co-coach Kris Richardson said.
Knox and a patient game of golf? No chance.
“I’d wind up picking up the ball and throwing it,” Knox said, laughing.
“Definitely an extrovert,” Folsom quarterback Jake Browning said of his longtime pal. “He talks to everyone. He wants to do everything, be involved. A ride across America? I don’t know who signs up for that.”
Knox did, last summer, as part of a team of cyclists in support of a friend with liver disease. The group raised more than $100,000. Knox and company rode from San Diego to Maryland in six days. He lost five pounds on the first day but gained lasting memories.
“So glad I did it,” Knox said.
Knox is also glad he discovered the joys of catching the ball. He started as a linebacker, following in the footsteps of his father, Dave Knox, an all-league linebacker for San Juan in his playing days. Troy Knox said he was apprehensive when thrust into the Folsom lineup as a sophomore. But one play against San Ramon Valley turned things around.
He had a ball bounce off his fingertips after running the wrong route. While stretching out for the ball, a San Ramon Valley defender laid a big hit on Knox, launching the receiver into his team’s sideline.
Then it all clicked.
“I knew I could play this game, and I couldn’t wait to try again,” Knox said.
That varsity introduction was at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, where Folsom makes its return Saturday. Knox had his breakout game two weeks later, catching 14 passes for 248 yards in a 49-46 victory over Deer Valley of Antioch. He finished that season with 66 catches for 845 yards and four touchdowns. Last season, he had 104 catches for 1,249 yards and 15 scores. This season, he has 86 receptions for 1,122 yards and 14 scores. No receiver in NorCal history has had as many receptions (256) or yards (3,216).
And he’s flourished as a small guy in a large man’s sport. Knox now runs precise routes, has the quickness to create space, the head fakes to elude anyone still with him and the hands to pull in the ball. That he’s worked with his quarterback, Browning, since they were 10 helps, too.
“He has an incredible understanding of space on the field, leverage, and how to turn guys,” Taylor said. “Just amazing. He’s become an artist. He’s our Wes Welker.”
Knox embraces the comparison to his favorite player. Welker was lightly recruited out of high school, flourished at Texas Tech and is now one of the NFL’s top receivers. Knox is generating little recruiting interest, largely based on his size, but his coaches are confident he’ll play in college. Knox isn’t too concerned. He has De La Salle on his mind.
Because teams have double-teamed Knox so often this season, there have been ample opportunities for McClure and Josiah Deguara to catch passes. McClure hardly played as a reserve last season. He’s emerged as a product of work ethic with 82 catches for 1,503 yards and 23 touchdowns. Deguara has 99 catches for 1,310 yards and 16 touchdowns. Browning has passed for a state-record 5,393 yards and a state-record 74 touchdowns.
Double Knox, and someone else is open. Single-cover Knox, and pay the price. Oak Ridge tried last Saturday in the Sac-Joaquin Section Division I championship game, and Knox pulled in four touchdowns, a section title-game record.
“You can’t guard Troy Knox one-on-one, can’t do it,” Richardson said.
Knox has all sorts of ways to get open. He’ll look one way, then dart the other. He’ll look over his shoulder, as if anticipating the ball, and force the defender to do the same, only to slow and change direction.
“Sometimes, he’ll do a complete spin move,” Browning said, laughing. “Sometimes, it’s too much.”
When Knox lines up, hardly the imposing sort, he hears the doubts from his defender.
“Oh, all the time,” he said, eyes widening. “They call me little, or short, or other things you can’t print. It motivates me.”
He paused and added: “This game has been so much fun. For Folsom to give me this chance to play with these guys, it’s been unbelievable. After that pass where I got launched into the sideline as a sophomore, I got riled up. I was ready. I never wanted to slow down from there.”
CIF NORCAL REGIONAL GAMES
• Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
• At Diablo Valley College
• Friday, 7:30 p.m.
• At San Jose City College