FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — It hasn’t always been fair for Mike Knoll.
Steve Addazio recruited Knoll to Boston College as the No. 2 kicker in the class of 2014, according to Rivals. His task wasn’t a simple one: replace the great Nate Freese, who capped his stellar career with a senior season in which he made all 20 field goals and 40-of-41 extra points. His freshman year, Addazio threw Knoll into the fire as the starting placekicker, splitting some time with senior Joey Launceford and punter Alex Howell. And, for the most part, Knoll performed serviceably.
Yet his missed extra point against Penn State in the Pinstripe Bowl is all many remember. He’s the living embodiment of why that whole “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me” adage your mother probably taught you is bulls—t in the internet age. The nastiness and vitriol Knoll endured on social media are something no one should undergo. To make matters worse, Knoll fell out of favor with the coaching staff, largely replaced by a freshman, Colton Lichtenberg, in the 2015 season.
So on Saturday against Massachusetts, Knoll was just happy to be there.
He had already made an impressive debut against Georgia Tech as the team’s new punter, now that Howell has departed. Knoll showed he can flip the field, especially on his punt that was downed at the one-yard line. The best part was his smile on the big screen. Knoll waved his hands in air guitar fashion, similar to Michigan State kicker Michael Geiger’s celebration last year against Ohio State.
But with Lichtenberg sidelined with a quad injury, fate called Knoll back to the placekicking position. When that was discovered, Twitter went into a frenzy, crazed that BC’s pitiful kicking game would somehow get worse. In fact, many wondered if Knoll would even get an opportunity.
Initially, Addazio didn’t. On 4th-and-5 in the first quarter from 45 yards out—admittedly, a very long attempt—Addazio elected to go for it, but the Eagles failed on downs. After the game, Addazio had a reasonable explanation.
“I wanted to make sure Mike had another opportunity to get back on track,” Addazio said. “I felt like it was too far, and I didn’t want to put him in that position, at that distance. I wanted to give him a situation where I could put him in and it would give him some confidence.”
That chance came in the third quarter, though the situation wasn’t entirely different. From 40 yards out—still a considerable distance for an inexperienced kicker—on 4th-and-8, Addazio called on Knoll. He drilled it down the middle. Only three minutes later, Knoll knocked another through the uprights, this time from 37 yards away.
Knoll’s performance was spectacular given what he has gone through, and what BC has gone through on special teams over the last three seasons. It’s most certainly far from fixed. Who knows what will happen when Lichtenberg heals? Plus, Knoll failed on an extra point earlier in the game, once again bringing out the eggs from their nest online.
According to quarterback Patrick Towles, that never fazed Knoll. In fact, Towles believes that cold-hearted demeanor when the clock is running mixed with his childlike joy to be playing the game he loves on television makes Knoll even stronger.
“Mike’s mentality and attitude never changes. He’s always even-keeled,” Towles said. “If he misses a kick, he’s going to have the same look on his face as if he hit a 45-yarder.”
That’s why Knoll is perfect for this team. He never loses that appreciation for playing football. For a team that went through so many hard times just a season ago, you have to have that light-hearted attitude on the sidelines, as long as you’re focused when on the yard markers. And Knoll knows better than anyone else that there’s more to life than football, which helps him immensely. On days he isn’t kicking or punting, Knoll is an active member of Boston nightlife. He spins mad beats as DJ Jake Knox alongside his partner, Ea$tSyde Jon aka AceThaPoet (aka running back Jonathan HIlliman).
It would be hard to blame BC if it came out completely flat against UMass, with that same negative attitude. After all, just a week ago, the Eagles lost in the final minutes to the Yellow Jackets, an ocean away from home. Last year, when the many heartbreaking losses came, the team’s will to play on left. It wasn’t fun anymore.
Judging from the screams of “For Boston” and emphatic cheers of victory from the locker room, those days are long gone. It’s hard to imagine Knoll’s infectious attitude not having a significant positive impact.
And, of course, when he got the opportunity, Knoll displayed that joy himself. After the game, the junior took to the podium beneath Gillette Stadium with a humored smile. Truly, he seemed shocked that he was called to speak in front of the media. He answered questions calmly and professionally, deflecting praise to the guys around him like a true BC athlete. Knoll even mixed in some jokes.
“You don’t get called up very often, so thanks for bringing me in,” Knoll said. He was even more gracious that it was for good reasons instead of negative ones.
But, as he’ll be the first to tell you, that’s just the life of a kicker.
Featured Image by Amelie Trieu / Heights Editor