Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bittersweet 2008 fuels Knipp's fire in final year

Last year's football season was bittersweet for Amherst's Alex Knipp.

Knipp played and started at free safety on a Ball State team that recorded a school-best 12 wins, which included the MAC West title with an 8-0 record. That earned them the school's first-ever national ranking, their first-ever spot in a MAC Championship game and a chance to play in a major bowl game.

The bitter part was Knipp and the Cardinals fell short of their goals. Their goals of a MAC Championship and a major bowl win didn't happen as Ball State fell to Buffalo, 42-24 in to the MAC Championship game and then lost to Tulsa, 45-13 in the GMAC Bowl.

"It was a big disappointment for us," Knipp said. "We worked real hard and went 12-0, won our side of the MAC and then we made it to the MAC Championship game, which was our goal to win — but it didn't happen."

Knipp is using those two losses as motivation and is more determined this year as he returns for his third-straight year as the starting free safety. He even started four games as a freshman and played in every game that season.

"I feel great, I've gotten a lot of experience over the last three years," Knipp said. "I have set high standards for myself so I'll help the team however I can."

After a 12-0 start, which was the best in Ball State history, Coach Brady Hoke resigned to take the San Diego State University head coaching job, which promoted offensive coordinator and former NFL coach Stan Parrish to the helm. Despite the two losses, Knipp feels he was the right choice.

"I know coach very well, he recruited me," Knipp said. "He's a great coach. He came right in and was a perfect fit for us when Coach Hoke left. We couldn't be happier. All the players respond well to him."

Parrish, who was the assistant football coach at Ball State from 2005-08, has a Super Bowl ring and a College National Championship. He was the quarterbacks coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2002 and 2003 and helped lead the Buccaneers to their first-ever Super Bowl championship in franchise history in '02. He was also the quarterbacks coach at Michigan in 1997 when the Wolverines won the National Championship. He has also been a head coach at Wabash, Marshall and Kansas State.

Parrish has his work cut out for him, as expectations aren't so high this year. Ball State was picked to finish fifth in the MAC-West Preseason Poll, behind Central Michigan (1), Western Michigan (2), Northern Illinois (3) and Toledo (4). Only Eastern Michigan was picked to finish worse.

"We're just focused on North Texas, our home opener," Knipp said. "That is what our main focus is on right now ... Our goal every year is to win a MAC Championship, but we know it's going to take a lot of hard work."

Knipp will soon graduate with an exercise science degree, but isn't looking too far down the road just yet.

"It's definitely a goal to make it to the NFL," said Knipp, who said if that doesn't work out, he wants to be a fireman. "I'm more focused on this season, but if it happens it'll be great. I've worked hard, so whatever happens happens."

After nine TV appearances last season, including seven nationally televised, the Cardinals are scheduled to appear in six games on ESPN networks this season. Knipp knows the spotlight and pressure to produce his senior year is upon him.

"Being a senior, I have to be more vocal and more of a leader," Knipp said. "I was always the type that led by my play and I think that speaks louder, but I'll have to be more vocal as a team leader this year."

Last year Knipp tied a season-high with 13 tackles and recorded his first-career sack against Tulsa in the GMAC Bowl game. He finished the year with a team-leading 96 tackles (58 solo/38 assists) and also added two interceptions.

At Amherst, Knipp will be remembered as Lorain County's first-ever back-to-back 2,000 yard rusher. He finished with 5,531 all-purpose yards and 63 touchdowns. Fifty-three of those touchdowns came on 4,435 rushing yards for his career. He also finished with 139 career tackles, eight interceptions and holds 14 school records.

Another Amherst graduate Brandon Kish will be a freshman on Ball State this season. He rushed for over 600 yards last year as a senior.

College notes can be sent to Steve Walker at

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