Northville walk-on Knight making Wolverines better behind the scenes
Former Northville High three-sport athlete earns scout team honors twice in two years for highly-ranked University of Michigan
There’s more to the University of Michigan football team’s ascension to this season’s top-four ranking than a bunch of 4- and 5-star recruits living up to their expectations.
The Wolverines’ success can also be attributed — to a slightly lesser degree, obviously — to players like Northville native Nolan Knight, a senior preferred walk-on whose scout-team diligence makes his more-heralded teammates better on the days leading up to Saturdays.
A three-sport athlete (football, basketball and track & field) at Northville High School, the 6-foot-4, 216-pound outside linebacker/edge rusher has embraced his out-of-the-spotlight role, earning Scout Team Special Teams Player of the Week honors twice during his four-year college football career — the most-recent during the week leading up to the Wolverines’ Oct. 8 31-10 triumph over Indiana.
Scout-team players are part of college football programs’ active rosters — although rarely seeing game action — imitating opposing teams’ players during practices.
Knight is walking in the maize-and-blue footsteps of his father Dave, a U of M preferred walk-on quarterback from 1986-89.
“My only two snaps came last year against Northern Illinois,” Nolan Knight said. “It was exciting, to say the least; a dream come true. My dad played one snap during his time at Michigan, I believe against Purdue his senior year.
“When I met up with my parents (Knight’s mom Kate is the executive director of the Farmington Downtown Development Authority) after the game, the first thing I told my dad was, ‘I think I got you beat now, man!'”
Given his father’s gridiron history, it’s not surprising Nolan was a Wolverine fan beginning at a young age.
“I went to all the Michigan football camps when I was young, got to know the coaches,” he said. “That’s definitely where I had my sights set on going.”
Following the cautionary guidance of his parents, Nolan skipped playing football during his elementary school days, pulling on pads for the first time during his seventh-grade year at Meads Mill Middle School.
“I fell in love with football immediately,” he reflected. “I remember my first pair of shoulder pads were pretty old, probably from like the 1970s. But I loved everything about the sport.”
Following a stellar career with the Mustangs, Knight connected with members of the U of M football coaching staff during his senior year of high school.
“When an opportunity to become a preferred walk-on presented itself, I pounced on it,” he said. “If this wouldn’t have worked out, there’s a good chance I would have run track at the University of Detroit-Mercy (he was a 200- and 400-meter standout in high school), but there was no way I was going to pass this up.”
Knight made a solid first impression on the U of M coaching staff during the summer of 2019.
“I was originally going to play offense, which I played during that summer’s player-run 7-on-7’s, and I attended the offensive meetings,” Knight recounted. “Then four days before (summer) training camp, I got called in to meet with my position coach (current offensive coordinator Sherrone Moore) and he said, ‘Hey, we’re going to move you to defense.’ So he walked me over to the defensive coordinator’s office and I was told they were moving me to linebacker/edge.
“They also told me they were going to put me in training camp, which is relatively rare for a preferred walk-on, especially a freshman. I was so excited, not understanding how difficult an adjustment it was going to be. Still, it was a great feeling knowing I was going to camp and feeling like I was part of the team.”
One of the most impactful moments Knight has experienced as a Wolverine was waiting to run onto the field for his first home game at The Big House.
“Just waiting in the tunnel before we ran out onto the field, seeing the home stands packed with people, the band on the field and the banner,” he said. “After watching Michigan on TV all those years, to be able to run out onto that field as a member of the team … well, it was surreal.
“When I ran out and touched the banner for the first time, it was like I was floating. It’s always exciting touching the banner, but that first time was something I’ll never forget.”
Knight has dressed for every home game except one the past two seasons, with the anticipation of entering a blowout victory always a possibility.
Knight is set to graduate in spring 2023 with a degree in Political Science.
“I’m still undecided about whether I’ll attend grad school or not,” he said. “Ultimately, I want to get some kind of job in politics, which I’ve always found intriguing and something I’ve been passionate about for a while.
“I have another year of (football) eligibility left, but I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”
What he is certain about is the past three-plus years as a member of the University of Michigan football program have been life-changing.
A feeling he shares with his dad and the hundreds of behind-the-scenes contributors who have toiled selflessly in the maize-and-blue shadows before him.
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