EDIT: I added a direct link to “Rock’s Run.” Please, consider a donation.
Ted “Rock” Knapp is a man of devotion.
The 52-year-old Albany, Ga., resident was a Hawkeye fan BH, before Hayden Fry. He’s one of those fans who stuck around even during the 19 non-winning seasons before Fry’s arrival 30 years ago. He drove all the way from Albany to watch the Hawkeyes end ’07 with a home loss to Western Michigan.
His family moved from Des Moines when he was 4, but he remained stuck on the Hawkeyes, through his formative years in Kankakee, Ill., and through his 30-something years as a football coach all over the country.
“Every Saturday, from the time I was 4 to the time I left for college at 18, dad and I would sit in the car (in Kankakee), weather didn’t matter, and we’d listen to WHO Des Moines and we’d listen to the Hawkeyes,” Knapp said.” As a little guy, anytime the Hawkeyes would score, I’d get to toot the horn, which wasn’t very often. They didn’t score very often back in those days, the ’60s.
“It was kind of our way of connecting, me and dad. From there, I developed my love for football, my love to coach. I just grew up a great Hawkeye fan. I passed it on to both of my sons. Even though, I didn’t attend the University of Iowa, I don’t know that there’s an alumnus who loves the University and the Hawkeyes more than I do.”
Some of you have Hawkeye “man caves.” Some have Hawkeye tattoos. Ted Knapp has Nile Kinnick Knapp.
Yes, Ted’s son is Nile Kinnick Knapp, named after the UI’s 1939 Heisman Trophy winner. Now, he’s not the first and won’t be the last to take his Hawkeye that far. But, Nile Kinnick Knapp just might have what it takes to play football for the Iowa Hawkeyes at Kinnick Stadium.
Nile Knapp rushed for 1,515 yards and 25 touchdowns as a junior last season for his dad’s Sherwood Christian Academy squad in Albany. No, it’s not Class 5A football in Atlanta, but Nile Knapp’s numbers and film have attracted attention from Georgia, Georgia Tech and Auburn.
Ted Knapp is the first to admit he’s a biased party.
“For me, it’s very, very difficult, because I’m his dad,” Ted Knapp said. “After 30 years of coaching, there is one thing I know, that’s a constant — Dad’s opinions are always skewed and I am no different. It would be foolish for me to think that I would interpret his talent less rather than more.
“With that preface, I know he’s the best running back I’ve ever had and I’ve had several who played Division I football. I consider him the best that I’ve had.”
Ted “Rock” Knapp is a man of devotion.
He is a man of deep faith, fully believing in his ministry of Christian education. He knows he’s going to need faith for what lies ahead.
In May, Knapp was diagnosed with amyloidosis and multiple myeloma, two terminal cancers. In the last month or so, he has spent a lot of time away from home in an Atlanta hospital, awaiting a transplant of his own stem cells. If the stem cells take, the cancers could go into remission for two to four years.
“It was a haymaker we never saw coming,” said Knapp, a father of five with kids ranging from 9 to 25. Teddy, 25, is expecting a child in March. Katieis 24; Kelsey is 21; Nile is 18 and Kirby Joe is 9. He and his wife, Shari, have been married for 28 years.
“I’ll go in for my chemo and I’ll have 25 text message, 25 phone calls,” Knapp said. “Someone always comes up to visit. I have hundreds and hundreds and probably thousands of people praying for me. The e-mails come everyday.
“And there, sitting next to me (during chemotherapy), is a man in his 80s or 90s who’s outlived everybody who could support him and love him and pray for him, who I think is much more brave in his fight. From that standpoint, I consider myself to be a very fortunate cancer patient just because of the support and love that I have that makes it so much easier.
“Then, of course, in those moments when there are no human touches, I have my faith in Christ and that alone is enough. I’ve been very blessed.”
Doctors told Knapp not to coach Sherwood Academy last season. He guided the Eagles to the school’s first winning record (6-4) in 23 years of football. He was voted south Georgia coach of the year.
He’s also Sherwood’s head track coach. He plans to return in April to watch Nile run in regional and state meets. And, he said, there’s spring football next year. Football coaches never stop.
“If you saw me, I look perfectly healthy,” Knapp said. “I don’t look sick and I’m very fortunate from that standpoint because it helps me keep the disease from invading my home, invading my football program and my daily job. We just don’t allow it to. The fact that I look healthy really helps.”
Just this week, the Knapps sent Nile’s highlight tape to a recruiting service. This service will circulate the tape to all 119 FBS schools. Of course, Ted Knapp made sure it arrived in Iowa City two weeks ago.
Ted hasn’t heard from Iowa. He knows it’s not a slam dunk that Iowa will offer Nile Kinnick Knapp a scholarship. He sees two obstacles, the visibility of playing for a small Christian school and the fact that Nile weighs 180 pounds.
“It’s just a matter of whether they (Iowa coaches) think he’s got the ability and whether they think he’ll fit their system,” Knapp said. “I certainly hope so. He loves the Hawkeyes. There are very few kids in America, I think, who want to play more for the Hawkeyes than Nile does.
“Now, that doesn’t do anything to get him there, but it’s a dream that I’ve allowed him to foster, that’s for sure.”
Earlier this month, Knapp jumped on a chance to bring his two worlds together.
As soon as he heard the Hawkeyes were on their way to the Outback Bowl, Knapp was in. It’s just a five-hour drive from his home in Albany. He told a former assistant of his from a school in Louisiana. That assistant told another assistant. Soon, Knapp and a group of 20 of his former players and coaches rolled into Tampa, Fla., in an RV.
It was a chance for Knapp to introduce his son to his past. He also made a great connection with a group of professors from the UI. They shared tailgate food on the day of the game. A few of the professors keep in contact with Knapp on his CaringBridge website, which brings together patients with critical illnesses and friends and family.
Knapp believes the UI professors were responsible for a Hawkeye goody box delivered to Sherwood this week from the Iowa football offices. Caps and autographs were among some of the items.
The Outback was also Knapp’s first live Hawkeye victory.
“I went to the doctors in Albany and Atlanta and said look, I know I’m supposed to report for this thing (the stem cell preparation) on the 17th or 20th of December, Iowa just got a bid to play in Tampa, that’s a five-hour drive for me, I’m going. That’s just the end of it,” Knapp said. “Unless you guys are going to tell me those two weeks are going to make a difference between living and dying, then I’m going.
“The doctor said, go.”
Near the end of a 20-minute phone conversation from his hospital room, Knapp announced a new passion.
You just knew it wasn’t going to be golf.
Since he’s been diagnosed, Knapp has become involved with “Curing Kids’ Cancer,” an organization dedicated to fundraising the fight against pediatric cancer (http://www.curingkidscancer.org/).
He’s also putting together “Rock’s Run for Kids” in Albany. He’s already talked to ESPN’s Lee Corso, who’s the honorary chairman for Curing Kids’ Cancer. He’s putting out an invite to all football coaches in the SEC.
“We’re going to raise money and try to put an end to pediatric cancer,” Knapp said.
This is a man of devotion.
To read Knapp’s personal journal online and check for a place to donate to “Rock’s Run,” visit http://www.caringbridge.org/visit/tedknapp.
Here’s a direct link to “Rock’s Run.” I’m kicking in, so should you.
Here’s a Nile Knapp highlight video from Sherwood’s 2008 season.