NORMAN — George Knight’s opponent ravaged his body and knocked him down repeatedly. Before the fight ended, George had lost 40 pounds and all of his hair, and required a feeding tube for any semblance of nutrition.
Throughout George’s painful, months-long bout with throat cancer, he relied on two things that are valuable in any fight: A pair of boxing gloves and a positive, unyielding advocate in his corner.
In the three months since his Sugar Bowl MVP performance against two-time defending national champion Alabama, Trevor Knight’s teammates and coaches have praised the sophomore’s leadership. Much of that ability stems from his knack for connecting with people emotionally, knowing what to say and do to motivate, encourage or excite someone.
Fans get their first opportunity in three months to watch Knight lead the OU offense in Saturday afternoon’s spring game, but nothing better illustrates the personality that has so captivated those in and around Sooner football than the scene around George Knight’s bedside throughout the spring of 2012.
“Trevor was like no other kid I’ve ever seen come with his parents to treatment, and I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” said LaDonna Sutherland, the nurse who worked with George at San Antonio’s Start Center for Cancer Care.
That Trevor could be with his father throughout those hours of chemotheraphy, radiation treatment and the painful recovery that followed was the result of a personal setback that, at first, didn’t seem like the tremendous blessing it ultimately became.
Doctors diagnosed George Knight with cancer in November 2011, about a month before Trevor planned to move to Norman and get a jump-start on his college career.
Just before George began chemotherapy a short time later, Trevor showed up with a gift: A pair of blue boxing gloves with a message and scripture handwritten on them.
“It blew me away,” George said. “I’m telling you, he is in touch with people’s feelings.”
Trevor said his goal was to project a “fighter’s mentality.”
“It was really sad news to get, but you can’t show him that,” Trevor remembered. “I wanted to let him know that I’d be there for him through everything, through thick and thin.”
Trevor couldn’t have become the ever-present rock his father would need, though, without a second bit of bad news in mid-December
Offensive coordinator Josh Heupel called to say there wasn’t a spot available for Trevor until the summer. The Sooners only had room for one high-school early enrollee, and that would be Taylor McNamara because the Sooners weren’t returning any tight ends in 2012.
Trevor had already graduated from Ronald Reagan High School and had begun packing his bags for the move when Heupel called.
“All of us were upset,” George Knight said. “I felt like I’d gotten punched in the gut.”
The very next weekend, the Knights visited OU for a team event, and during a Friday night dinner, George pulled Coach Bob Stoops to the side and asked if there was anything he could do to get Trevor on campus in January.
Despite the initial sting, though, the Knight family came to view Trevor’s delayed arrival at Oklahoma as an incredible blessing.
George’s wife Tricia works as a first-grade teacher in San Antonio. Their oldest son Tyler lives and works two hours south of the family, so it was hard for him to visit much, and Connor, Trevor’s twin brother and now a walk-on OU tight end, was still in high school.
Trevor had nothing but time on his hands, and spent every available second of it with his father.
“The fact that I got to be there and sit with him through every treatment was pretty special,” Trevor said.
Sutherland, the oncology nurse, said George’s particular form of cancer treatment is one of the roughest her clinic provides.
Trevor remained upbeat and positive throughout it all, even on the day when his dad developed a painful infection that left him curled up under a blanket on a gurney.
“He fed off of us,” Trevor said of his attitude during that time. “Obviously, he was gonna be down about it, but we could make it worse or we could make it better. That positive mindset radiates, and that’s anywhere in life. That’s on the football field, too.
“Having energy about yourself and having confidence about yourself, and the other guys rally off of that.”
‘The best ending to the story’
George Knight was finally beginning to eat solid food again when Trevor and Connor left home in early June to join the Sooners’ football team.
All these months later, he’s regained his health, his hair and his life, much of which revolves around OU football.
Among the hundreds of text messages George received during the Sugar Bowl was this one from the chemotherapy nurse who had a front-row seat to what Trevor Knight did for his father.
“Wow! Great first quarter for Trevor!! I know you guys are sooo proud of both of them. Good luck!!”
The message was particularly emotional for George, who felt tears forming as he read it.
Said Sutherland, who sent the text, “It was the best ending to the story, to have that finally come to fruition. George is just so proud of the boys. He just beamed when they walked in. I can tell you I’ve never seen it before as a nurse, the way those boys look at their dad.
“Trevor was there during his dad’s worst times, and I genuinely think it was a big, huge part of pulling George through.”