By: Eric Williams follow on twitter @wbksports
Fire is a chemical reaction that requires a combination of fuel, oxygen, and heat. Because of the dry climate in many parts of San Diego, the area faces year round fire threats in many neighboring communities. From the mountains to the beaches and inland from North County to the South, all of San Diego is at risk when temperatures rise and heavy winds blow. If you go to a Mira Mesa football game on any given Friday Night this season, you will be exposed to a potential fire threat there as well. When San Diego County prep football standout Steffon McKnight lines up at wide receiver for the Marauders, you can literally see the sparks flying from his cleats. As long as the threat remains, fire crews in the city will be on standby because the highly recruited wide receiver from Mira Mesa High has been known to torch his defenders.
McKnight’s Story

A four-star recruit listed at 6’ 2” 175 lbs. with a 40-yard dash time of 4.48, Steffon McKnight is ranked 31st overall in the state of California, 40th in the nation at the wide-receiver spot, and in the top 200 overall for the National Composite Rankings based on 247 Sports. ESPN ranks McKnight 26th in California, 31st regionally on the West Coast, 29th overall at the wide-receiver position, and 204th on the ESPN 300. ranks McKnight 33rd in California, 41st at WR nationally, and within the top 200 overall. Last week, I interviewed the very intelligent and extremely kind young man, who based on MBA Sports Recruiting, is the third-ranked high school football prospect in all of San Diego County. The kid was laid back and as genuine as they get: An individual who was real and not afraid to be himself.

Not every top high-school football recruit in the country is handed a golden ticket to recruitment success. In fact, many great student athletes finish their playing careers at the high-school level because they just don’t have enough financial or family support to continue on at the deeper levels of the recruiting process. Some high-school athletic programs don’t have as much access to funding as do others, and some student-athletes grow up in families who are economically disadvantaged. Steffon McKnight has had to overcome many challenges during his youth, and those trials and tribulations have allowed him to grow up at a faster pace than most kids. That maturity has helped McKnight to take control over his own college recruiting process. A process that will make you wonder how, during his sophomore year, a young kid from a lesser-known high-school football program in San Diego became one of the country’s top-rated recruits for the 2016 class. That answer can be found in Steffon McKnight’s own words: “My family helped me understand what it takes to be a man,” he explained to me confidently. “They’ve taught me how to live on my own.”

McKnight’s first year of playing organized football was in the 4th grade. “I hated it. I actually played defensive-line and linebacker. I was pretty good, but I didn’t play the next year. When I moved to Mira Mesa around 6th grade, I came back and played 8-man with one of my friends and ever since then I just fell back in love with the game, and here I am now.” McKnight’s most memorable moments throughout his football career were during middle school when he played in Florida for the Under Armour All-American game and several other all-star games during that time. McKnight’s young career began to take off after his experience in those games, and Mira Mesa football coaches knew right away that they had a special kid. “My first game on Varsity was week two or three of my freshmen year. It was so nerve-racking, you don’t even know…I’m like this dude coming out of 8th grade…I had a little bit of confidence in myself, but I was really nervous because these dudes were super big like nothing that I’d ever seen before.” McKnight has since then caught the eyes of several top D-1 colleges, and his mind-set has changed. “I feel that I have so much more confidence now…I feel like I have a lot more control. I actually know how to scan a defense. I feel like I’m a much smarter football player now than in my freshmen year.” 
Mira Mesa High football was established in 1976. The Marauders only appearances in the CIF Championship came in 1983, a loss to Sweetwater 13-21 and then in 2010, a 21-33 loss to Vista in the CIF D-1 championship. Head coach Gary Blevins (132-97-4) is coaching in his 21st season at Mira Mesa High where he led the team to seventeen straight CIF playoff appearances from 1995-2011. The Marauders playoff appearance streak under Blevins ended in 2012, but Blevins led the team back to the CIF playoffs in 2013 during Steffon McKnight’s sophomore season. “Coach Blevins is pretty fun. He’s a really good coach, and has brought a lot of people in the program that have really benefited me in my life,” said McKnight. Playing arguably one of the toughest schedules in San Diego over the past four years, the Marauders have faced heavyweights, St Augusine, Madison, and Cathedral Catholic in each of those seasons. Coach Blevins will look to lead the Mira Mesa football program back into the playoffs in 2015.
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McKnight is trying to model his game this year after former Alabama great and NFL rookie Amari Cooper. “That’s my favorite receiver in the NFL hands down. He’s the guy.” When I asked him about the upcoming season McKnight said, “I’m feeling very confident in our team. I feel that we have a lot of depth at the running back position…they are going to be looking nice!” For the 2015 season, the Marauders will feature dual talented backs
Chamberlin Liddell-Patacsil and Currie Thomason. Because Mira Mesa is focused on more of a running attack in 2015, McKnight may have a smaller role at times but a strong run-game should open up the potential for more big plays from the speedy receiver. McKnight said he is a team player, and he wants to help his Marauder teammates get back to the playoffs. McKnight also praised other talented prep football players in San Diego County. “I’d like to give a shout out to my dude Mekhi Stevenson who plays for Helix, and I want to make sure to give a shout out to my dude Adrian Petty and also Mason Vinyard.” 
The Recruiting Process 
Every kid deserves an opportunity to obtain a college scholarship, but they have to get their name out there first. Steffon McKnight is an individual who did not receive the same opportunities that other top prep football players in the country did, but when McKnight got his chance he made it count. “The thing that helped me the most was attending the B2G camp my freshmen year.
 I was on a couple of highlights, and I did some training with Akili Smith who gave me some good words; so I think that through training is where I received the most help and got myself out there.” McKnight currently has twelve scholarship offers, including five from Pac-12 schools. “I feel like my family has influenced me in an educational way. My mom, Melodye McKnight, has been a big influence on me because she has a degree in Psychology, and she is a Social Worker. I find myself very interested in Psychology because I think the human mind is very interesting just the way that it works, so from that perspective I think I might actually be going to Major in Psychology.” If not Psychology, McKnight said he has other career options in mind. “I heard there were not a lot things you can do with a Psychology Degree so I’ve also been looking into the Communications Major as well. My favorite subject in High School is actually Math because it’s very challenging…It’s hard, but sometimes it comes naturally to me. Another class that I’ve started to like is video production.” 
The recruiting process can be exciting for top prospects, but it can also be a tremendous amount of work. “I honestly like the recruiting process because it’s pretty cool to meet a bunch of new people and seeing what they have to offer to you, but at the same time it can be overwhelming with recruiting analysts calling all the time,” explains McKnight. “For awhile I just stopped answering the phone,” he laughed. “But honestly it’s a real blessing, and I’m very glad I’ve had the opportunity to experience this.” With so many recruits calling him, I asked McKnight if he felt like there were more expectations for his gameplay. “It really hit me my junior year when I was ranked super high in the ESPN 300. I was really feeling the pressure…I feel like focusing on all of that really took away from my game, so this year my plan is to focus on what I have to do, my assignments, and what’s most important at the moment. I’m trying to keep away from thinking about all that stuff at least while I’m out playing the game.” I asked McKnight how he gets in the zone on Friday Nights and he said, “On game-night, I like to calm myself down, so I’ll listen to some smooth music like some Drake or some Post Malone…some smooth jams.” 
From April 15 and through May 31, recruiters can visit a prospect's high school twice during the spring evaluation process. College coaches can visit schools again in September, October and November. With the advancement of technology and media, the recruitment game has changed. Texting isn't permitted between coaches and prep-football recruits; so social media has become one of the most effective ways for student athletes to correspond during the recruiting process. McKnight feels social media can have some negative effects though. “I honestly recommend that people don’t get into social media if they are a top recruit because a lot of that stuff can actually pull you down just by re-tweettng something a recruiter doesn’t like. It’s like taking away points basically,” explains McKnight who holds offers from Arizona St, Boise St, Cal, Hawaii, Idaho, Michigan, Nebraska, Oregon State, SDSU, UCLA, USC, and Washington. “My first offer came from San Diego State sometime after my freshmen season. My second offer was from UCLA sometime around my sophomore year and after that they just started to fall.” McKnight said he wants to take all five of his official visits before he makes a decision, “I plan on visiting Arizona State, USC, UCLA, Washington, and Nebraska.”
Signing a letter of intent does not guarantee a spot on a college football team. It only ties players to college programs so coaches know how many scholarship players they have for the next season. McKnight recommends that student athletes take their time to look at all their options: “Listen to more than just what the coaches have to say, and really look out for yourself and do your researching and make sure you know what you’re getting into before you make a commitment because at the end of the day these coaches who recruit you get paid to do this, and some of them will tell you anything just to get you on their team.”

Evaluating Steffon McKnight

Steffon McKnight is a great route runner who executes his assignments very efficiently. He has quick lateral movement, and will break defenders ankles on the stop and go. McKnight works inside and outside so he could be used as a slot receiver at the next level. “I feel like I’m very elusive and deceiving with my releases and my route running,” McKnight explained to SDFNL. “That’s one of the things I pride myself on, but I also do feel like I have speed and a lot of colleges have looked at me as being a speed receiver.” McKnight’s creativity with the football makes him a great option to exploit Zone Coverages as well. His skill-set will translate at the higher levels where quarterbacks can get the ball to him more precisely and earlier which will give McKnight more time to showcase his speed and make his moves. McKnight’s raw emotion on the field reminds me of former 
Panthers and current Ravens WR, Steve Smith or former Washington Redskins great, Gary Clark. San Diego Chargers fans will see the great Wes Chandler in McKnight’s film reel. His great footwork and breakaway speed show flashes of current NFL receivers like Emmanuel Sanders, Randall Cobb, Golden Tate, and Santana Moss. In my opinion, McKnight is best when he is in the open field on Jet Sweeps and Short Slants where he has room to run. Bigger more experienced tackles will execute better blocking at the next level, so McKnight will become more valuable once he’s finally inserted into a D-1 college first team offense.
Raw talent is just one of the things that has put Steffon McKnight out there as one of the nation’s top recruited wide receivers. The scholarship offers have come because McKnight has trained hard, and taken the advice and mentorship of great coaches and athletic trainers around his inner-circle. “Coach J.T. has really helped me become a more smarter player, a more responsible player, a more mature player, and he actually holds me accountable,” McKnight said. McKnight also feels he could make some improvements. “I most definitely need to work on my hands,” he explained. “I want to concentrate on making good catches from both the right and left side of the ball. My jump ball is good, but to be a dominant receiver, I need to do it more consistently in traffic.” To train for these skills, McKnight took to a local trainer who works with athletes over at Scripps High School and around Mira Mesa. “I went to a couple of trainings with my dude Coach Rod over the summer, and we worked on strengthening skills with the ropes. The first hour of coach Rod’s training are warm-up and footwork drills, so I think my feet have gotten faster.
After footwork, we hopped on the Vertimax and that thing is hell,” laughed McKnight. The Vertimax is a training machine that attaches to an athletes ankles and arms pulling their weight down as they jump. “It increases your vertical leaping ability basically,” McKnight said. “I also went on a couple of trainings with Brett Swain, Jack Bailey, and CoCo Richardson. We worked on footwork at the beach and continued working on my hands.”

In the book Talent is Overrated author Geoff Colvin explained that, “Jerry Rice used to design his practce to work on his specific needs. He didn’t need to do everything well, just certain things. He had to run precise patterns; he had to evade the defenders, sometimes two or three, who were assigned to cover him; he had to out jump them to catch the ball and outmuscle them when they tried to strip it away; then he had to outrun tacklers. So he focused his practice work on exactly these requirements. Not being the fastest receiver in the league turned out not to matter.”

For Steffon McKnight, speed and intelligence are his major strengths, but patience has been his biggest asset. Sometimes things in life will challenge us, but success comes as you overcome those challenges. You get knocked down…you get right back up. You keep working and you can’t be afraid of the next challenge
The verse from Rapper Nipsey Hussle’s “Don’t Forget Us” stands as a subtle expression for Steffon McKnight’s recruiting success story thus far:

Look at my life my friend, I got the right to win 
I put the grindin’ in, even on em nights when the lights was dim 
When my hope was low, I found light within 
I know it’s ups and downs, so every loss I took I knew to strike again. 
Something To Think About If you have ever played high school or college football, you know the sport prepares you for real life. Football teaches us courage, endurance, co-opera􀆟on, obedience, promptness and decision-making. While high school football can be physically tough on the body, the pressure of choosing the right college to spend the next 3-5 years of your life at can be much tougher. The game of football is also for spectators though, and they ultimately pay big money to watch college and NFL games. The recruiting business is just that…A business. According to the USA Today and the National Sports Journalism Center, top ranked college athletic programs will spend anywhere from half a million to upward over one-million dollars each year on recruitment just for football scholarships alone. Total football expenses for top-notch football programs can be anywhere from $15 million to $40 million per year. Coaches and educators should look to ensure that every student who wants to play organized sports has an equal opportunity to get their name out there and show their athle􀆟c and academic abilities to all schools. For a lot of kids, it may be their only way off the streets. Receiving a college scholarship for football is more than just a ticket to success; it’s an opportunity at a be􀆩er life. Steffon McKnight is one of those kids who deserve that opportunity.
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