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October 19, 2005

McKnight out for year, plans 2006 return

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For his trouble, Rhema McKnight gets an extra semester of graduate school and a chance to strengthen his NFL stock.

For its patience, the Notre Dame football program gets another season from arguably the team's most talented wide receiver.

Charlie Weis announced Wednesday that McKnight won't be back this season and will instead take a medical red shirt that will let him return to the huddle next fall. Weis had anticipated McKnight would be ready for last weekend's game against Southern California, but the senior graded out at only 75 percent in practice.

"He's going through drills and I'd say he's three-quarters, but three-quarters at that position where you plant and cut and explode just isn't good enough to play," said Weis, calling the healing time for McKnight's injury usually 4-to-6 weeks. "The expectation would be we're past this stage already and we're not there yet."

Weis, McKnight, trainers and doctors, while under advisement from the University, have been privately discussing the viability of a fifth season for nearly a month. McKnight, while not happy about shutting down his senior season before it ever got untracked, said he's looking forward to a chance to spend another year in Weis' offense.

"I think it's going to be fantastic," McKnight said. "I get another year in this system and hopefully it pays off for me. This is an NFL-type of offense and you've seen the things we've done so far this season. I can't see it not even being better for next year."

McKnight said that while professional considerations weren't the main reason behind sitting out the rest of the season, better preparing for a potential NFL career played a part in this process.

McKnight, who made five catches for 69 yards and a touchdown in about six halves of action this season, plans to graduate in December and then start work on his Masters degree this spring. Unlike USC quarterback Matt Leinart, however, McKnight won't have the option of taking just ballroom dancing as a fifth-year senior.

"It would be nice to become more cultured, I guess you could say," McKnight laughed.

McKnight won't be the only one enjoying his return in 2006. The Irish offense planned to lose McKnight, Maurice Stovall and Matt Shelton after this season, leaving Jeff Samardzija as the program's only tested receiver. Now with McKnight and Samardzija set to return along with quarterback Brady Quinn, the Irish offense could have even more firepower next year than it already does now.

"It's an exciting thing," McKnight said. "When I was able to play I felt that all the receivers and Brady had that connection. Brady, hopefully, he finishes off the season very well and he keeps that confidence and brings it into next season and hopefully he does even better than what he's done this year."

For McKnight, the need to focus more on next season became clear when he struggled to respond to treatment during the past two weeks. He'd been practicing with the team since the bye week, but he never came close to working at full speed.

"Anytime I tried to make a cut I'd probably end up slipping and hurting it there or doing different things walking, overextending it there," McKnight said. "Those are probably the major setbacks.

"I think it's the right decision. I just can't do the things that I can do in order to be a football player."

Weis also announced that as expected, defensive end Chris Frome will miss the remainder of the 2005 season.



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