CFB: USC running back Joe McKnight to turn pro
By Lance Pugmire and Gary Klein
Los Angeles Times
LOS ANGELES — Joe McKnight, USC’s top running back, said Friday he would forgo his final season of college and make himself available in the next NFL draft.
“It’s my first healthy season, and it’s time for me to go,” McKnight said in a brief telephone interview.
The junior from River Ridge, La., ran for 1,014 yards this past season, becoming the Trojans’ first 1,000-yard rusher since 2005, when Reggie Bush and LenDale White accomplished the feat.
McKnight’s announcement came as USC is investigating his relationship with Scott Schenter, a Santa Monica businessman who had once registered the Web site domain name 4joemcknight.com.
The running back was seen driving a 2006 Land Rover owned by Schenter, and USC’s compliance office held McKnight out of the Trojans’ game against Boston College in the Emerald Bowl last month.
McKnight told the Los Angeles Times that the Land Rover was owned by his girlfriend’s boss and insisted he had never driven it. A USC spokesman later said that McKnight was “mistaken” in his comments and had previously reported to the school that he was using the vehicle.
In an e-mail, Schenter told The Times that the sport utility vehicle was being used by McKnight’s girlfriend, who worked for him and was a “longtime family friend.” Although he acknowledged having marketing interests, Schenter said none involved McKnight and that he only created the Web domain to be clever.
Beyond that e-mail, Schenter has declined numerous requests from The Times that he elaborate about the situation.
McKnight said USC’s investigation had no bearing on his decision to begin a professional career. “I didn’t decide to go because of that,” he said.
It is not clear where USC is in its investigation or whether McKnight had received information about his eligibility for the 2010 season from the school. University officials did not return telephone messages and spokesman Tim Tessalone said athletic program officials would not comment.
USC’s football program is also being investigated because of allegations that Bush, who won a Heisman Trophy as the Trojans’ tailback in 2005, received what the NCAA classifies as “extra benefits” from would-be marketers during his college career.
McKnight was considered a blue-chip prospect in high school, and he created a stir at the news conference to announce his college choice when he told reporters he had talked to Bush on a conference call with USC Coach Pete Carroll while being recruited. Such an arrangement might have constituted a violation of NCAA rules, but McKnight’s high school coach later claimed the running back misspoke and USC officials have declined to provide details of the outcome of their investigation into the matter.
Comparisons to Bush and the expectations they created weighed on McKnight throughout his time at USC. He had problems with fumbling as a freshman, when he also sustained his first in a series of injuries — a bruised knee. As a sophomore, McKnight suffered from migraine headaches, a hyperextended elbow and injured fingers from when they were caught in a door. He also sustained four dislocated toes during USC’s Rose Bowl victory over Penn State.
This season, McKnight started all but one regular season game and starred during the team’s game-winning drive at Ohio State.