Jake Knecht was in the clear. Or so he thought.
Santa Barbara High’s star football receiver beat his Santa Ynez defender down the right sideline. He looked over his left shoulder to see a spiraling football headed right for him. He reached up, caught it, and …
“Pop!” went the hamstring, he recalled.
“I was just trying to get away from that cornerback,” he said of the injury he suffered during the first quarter of the Dons’ long-delayed, season opener last month. “It happened on the push-off to extend it. That extension just totally got it.”
The last 20 yards of the 65-yard touchdown pass from Deacon Hill were the longest of Knecht’s life. The defender caught up to him just as he limped over the goal line, knocking him to the ground.
“I’m super-lucky that I could make it into the end zone,” he said.
The play reminded Knecht of the collegiate recruiting odyssey that he’d just completed. He thought he’d been in the clear several months earlier, having received a scholarship offer from Azusa Pacific’s NCAA Division II program.
And then it was over in the snap, just like his hamstring.
“I was fully committed there, and then Azusa canceled their program in December,” he recalled. “I don’t think my family or I had been that down in years. They told us the program canceled three days before all aps were due, so I had no time to find another school.”
Knecht decided to take the high road in this detour toward his goal line.
“I was writing on my aps that this would be a blessing in disguise … that you’ve just got to roll with what you get,” he said. “I was reaching out to any school that I could.”
His father, Tom Knecht, a political science professor and golf coach at Westmont College, suggested that he attend the Montecito school.
“We talked about it and were considering it,” Jake said. “We didn’t have anywhere else to go, and it would be super-good to be with my dad. But I don’t play golf.”
And Westmont doesn’t play football.
Knecht reached paydirt, however, when he got a call from UC Davis, a Big Sky Conference program which competes in the NCAA’s Division 1 Football Championship Subdivision. The Aggies became intrigued with the 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior after watching game film from a junior season in which he caught 26 passes for 600 yards and five touchdowns.
His play helped the Dons advance to the CIF-Southern Section Division 8 finals.
“I’m just getting goosebumps talking about that season,” Knecht said. “Those guys I played with are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. We shared so many great memories.
“It was the first time in a while that we’d made it that far. It was such a blessing even though we lost in the last game (24-21 to top-seeded Sunny Hills). It was so much fun to play with my boys and the people that I love.”
Knecht, a sprint champion for Santa Barbara High’s track and field team, is unsure if he’ll make it back to the track this spring.
“I’m going step-by-step,” he said. “I’m trying to heal this hamstring. If it heals, I’m going to try, but I also really don’t want to potentially injure myself for Davis coming into summer.”
He leaves for Davis for football’s summer camp on June 20. He plans to concentrate on just that sport for now.
“In my later years, when I’m comfortable with everything and know the lay of the land, I’ll probably do track,” Knecht said.
He’s excited whatever lies ahead of him. The turn of events, he said, was the silver lining in a black-and-blue hamstring.
“I really think this was meant to happen,” he said. “By the grace of God, Davis picked me up, and I’m so excited.
“UC Davis is a great school, a great football program. The coaches, I loved. I just think they clicked all the boxes for me.”