By Rick Eymer
Menlo-Atherton High grad Sam Knapp enters his third season with the Stanford football team and this time around he can think about receiving a little more playing time. He's earned the chance.
Knapp saw action in three games last year and caught his first collegiate pass against Wake Forest; a modest seven-yard reception from Josh Nunes that remains the major highlight of his career.
"Once you get a taste of it, you want more," Knapp said. "It makes you want to work even harder,"
The catch motivated Knapp, the son of Stanford men's associate head swimming coach Ted Knapp, into what he believes was his best week of practice. Heck, he acknowledges that even now the play gets relived in his mind a few times.
The wide receiving corps is a little less crowded this year and there's a chance Knapp can work himself into the rotation.
"He's Mr. Steady," Stanford coach David Shaw said. "He understands the offense and he is still competing for playing time. He's a guy we can depend on."
Another M-A grad set the precedent. Greg Camarillo walked onto the Cardinal football team as a punter and pleaded with then coach Tyrone Willingham for a chance to work out with the wide receivers.
His first reception was a two-yard gain from Chris Lewis.
"It wasn't a wonderful catch, but it got me in the record books," he said after that Stanford win over Arizona State on Sept. 22, 2001.
Camarillo went out to find a home in the NFL. Perhaps it's far too early for Knapp to start thinking in those terms. He does have the support of his teammates, though.
"First of all he has an unbelievable personality," Cardinal quarterback Andrew Luck said. "I love Knapp. He comes to work every day. He's a big piece of the process. You have to appreciate guys like him who help make this team go. He can step in with the first offense and knows what he's doing."
Knapp has seen Stanford's success unfold from a unique perspective over his three-year career. From just missing out becoming bowl eligible, to making the Sun Bowl and last year's Orange Bowl victory. It's been a great journey and it's far from over.
"The team atmosphere is great," said Knapp, who rooms with Nunes during training camp. You have guys who are Heisman Trophy candidates and guys who are role players and scout team guys. We all contribute in our own way during the week."
Chris Owusu is the top returning wide receiver, but there are several spots open to competition. Knapp knows there are a lot of guys fighting for playing time. He's not about to get outworked.
"One of the biggest differences for me is I'm comfortable," Knapp said. "I've got the playbook down and with coach Shaw keeping the same system, it was big."
Knapp was also a part of the informal summer workouts with Luck, Nunes and several other quarterback candidates. The number of passes he caught during the summer is so large all he can guess is he caught "a lot."
Knapp may never catch another pass, but even so, he's having the best time of his life. He's practicing and playing with teammates who are and will become some of his best friends. He's part of something special.