Johnny Knox could’ve been one of the best wide receivers in Chicago Bears franchise history.
Knox’s blazing speed and route running made him a threat on deep routes. He was also a capable kick return specialist.
It’s hard to fathom some JUCO programs even ignored Knox, who flew under the radar as a high school wide receiver in the Houston area.
Knox’s hard work helped him rise from the ashes and eventually become an NFL Pro Bowler.
Alas, it took just one freak play deep into his third pro season that ended his promising career.
Knox, always the optimist, currently uses that life-changing event to help future football stars deal with adversity and reach their full potential on the gridiron.
Johnny Otis Knox II was born in Houston, TX on November 3, 1986.
Knox attended Channelview High School which is roughly 16 miles east of downtown Houston.
He played football for the Channelview Falcons as a wide receiver.
Knox earned District 23-4A Offensive MVP honors after his senior year.
Taxprep also named him to its First-Team Class 4A All-State selection.
Knox wasn’t on anybody’s radar by the time his high school football career ended in 2005.
He had to go through the proverbial eye of the needle so he could excel at the collegiate level.
College Days With The Tyler Apaches And Abilene Wildcats
Johnny Knox had to search far and wide for a junior college that was willing to dangle a scholarship offer.
He didn’t qualify academically after he graduated from Channelview High School, so he had to take the junior college route.
Knox drove some 666 miles to Hutchinson Junior College near Wichita, KS.
“The head coach wouldn’t even come out of his office to talk to him,” Tyler (TX) Junior College offensive coordinator Ryan Mahon told the Chicago Daily Herald’s Lindsey Willhite (via ApacheAthletics.com) during Knox’s rookie year with the Chicago Bears in 2009.
Knox remained undaunted.
He attended many football camps so he could improve his game and hopefully catch the eye of another program.
Unfortunately, Knox ran into another roadblock.
According to Willhite, Knox received a “3” ranking from the coaches who ran the football camps.
In contrast, the top college football prospects received a “1” rating.
All of a sudden, fate intervened.
Mahon reached out to Knox. His Tyler Apaches eventually signed him because they needed depth at wide receiver.
“You could see a good skill set, but he wasn’t anything that jumped off the page,” he told Willhite. “He was always a great route runner.”
Johnny Knox majored in general studies at Tyler Junior College.
He got off to a slow start in his junior college football career.
Knox suited up in just four of the Apaches’ nine games as a freshman, catching eight passes for two touchdowns.
Knox put in a tremendous amount of work during the offseason.
Mahon was impressed with his wide receiver’s work ethic. He told Willhite that Knox “worked his tail off.”
Johnny Knox’s hard work paid enormous dividends.
Knox recorded almost five times as many receptions (37) and touchdowns (11) during his sophomore campaign at Tyler Junior College.
He also led all junior college wide receivers with 886 yards.
Johnny Knox (WR ‘09-‘12) was a 5th rounder out of Abilene Christian University. He ran a 4.34 / 40 and was considered one of the fastest players in the NFL until suffering a severe spinal injury in 2011.#Bears #BearDown pic.twitter.com/C0DRHOgTml
— Random Bears (@DaRandomBears) September 2, 2021
Even Rivals.com took notice.
The website ranked Knox the No. 9 junior college receiver in 2007.
The no-name wideout was suddenly making a tremendous impact on the college gridiron.
Knox decided to transfer to Abiliene Christian University that year.
He started his career with the ACU Wildcats as a backup wide receiver.
However, Knox slowly worked his way into the starting role.
Once he got into his groove, he picked up where left off at Tyler Junior College.
Knox had 62 receptions (third in NCAA Division II in 2007), 1,158 yards (fourth-most in program history), and a school record 17 touchdowns.
Knox helped the Wildcats claim a share of the Lone Star Conference title by hauling in two touchdowns in ACU’s 42-17 rout of the Texas A&M – Kingsville Javelinas on November 1, 2008.
He caught a 31-yard pass from freshman quarterback Zach Stewart that gave the Wildcats a 21-10 lead after the PAT in the second quarter.
Knox caught his second touchdown pass of the game from 10 yards out on a fade route for a 35-17 ACU lead with 5:41 remaining in the third quarter.
Three weeks later, Knox caught five passes for 125 yards and a touchdown in the Wildcats’ record-breaking rout of the West Texas A&M Buffaloes.
ACU prevailed, 93-68.
The final outcome resembled more of a basketball score than one in football.
It was the most incredible single-game performance in the Lone Star Conference’s 77-year history, per ACUSports.com.
It was also one of the most memorable ones in recent Division II football history.
The undefeated Wildcats not only won their eleventh consecutive game, but they also reached the NCAA Division II quarterfinals for the first time in their history.
Johnny Knox was a part of it all.
While the Wildcats didn’t make it past the quarterfinal round, Knox earned Second-Team All-America honors in 2008.
He caught for 30 touchdowns in his two seasons at ACU – the second-most in Wildcats football program history.
Knox ended his prolific college football career by hauling in three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown in the 2009 Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game on January 31, 2009.
The Nation prevailed over Texas, 27-24.
In a span of four years, Johnny Knox had transformed himself from a plodding, no-name prospect into a capable junior college wideout who had a shot at making it to the National Football League.
“I feel like I’m a receiver at heart,” he told the Chicago Daily Herald in September 2009. “I feel like I can do the things that a receiver does. Speed is one of my biggest assets, but I do feel like I can run routes, catch the ball, and block.”
Pro Football Career
As Johnny Knox’s stint on the college gridiron ended, a career in the National Football League wasn’t a sure bet.
Despite Knox’s best efforts, scouts thought he had skewed statistics because he played at the Division II level, per LoyolaPhoenix.com’s Bridget Murphy.
Apparently, his ticket to the NFL Scouting Combine was his performance at the Texas vs. The Nation All-Star Game.
Once Knox got the opportunity, he made the most out of it.
The 6’0″, 190-lb. Knox, who proclaimed his speed was one of his biggest upsides, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.34 seconds at the 2009 NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, IN.
It was the third-fastest time among the rookie prospects, per Murphy.
Plus, it was the kind of speed that could throw off defenses on deep routes and contribute significantly to special teams play.
Knox finally got the attention of the scouts who undermined and disregarded his potential.
The Chicago Bears took a chance on Knox and selected him in the fifth round – 140th overall – of the 2009 NFL Draft.
Today in 2009, @ACUsports legend Johnny Knox is selected 140th overall by the @ChicagoBears #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/MWBgND8BFW
— Texas Sports Hall of Fame (@TXSportsHOF) April 26, 2016
While the Bears went 9-7 in the 2008 NFL season, they missed the postseason for the second straight year.
Chicago’s moribund passing game did them in that year.
The Bears’ 3,061 passing yards ranked them 21st in the league in 2008.
Their best receivers that year were Devin Hester and Greg Olsen, who combined for eight touchdowns.
Knox gave new Bears quarterback Jay Cutler an additional deep threat for the 2009 NFL campaign.
Knox was so exhausted preparing for the draft, he finally had time to catch up on his sleep after the Bears announced his selection,
“I’ve been so tired the last few weeks, but it’s all worth it now,” he told ACU’s official athletics website on April 26, 2009. “After the Bears drafted me and I talked to them for a little while, I had to take a nap.”
Even though Knox already made it to the NFL, he still had his work cut out for him.
Chicago Bears general manager Jerry Angelo dubbed his selection “risky,” per Murphy. He also said Knox had a 50 percent chance of making the final roster cuts at the end of training camp.
Not only did Knox make the roster, but he also made a solid impact in his rookie season.
Knox had 82 yards on two receptions in the Bears’ season-opening 21-15 road loss to their NFC North nemesis, the Green Bay Packers, on September 13, 2009.
Knox hauled in a 68-yard catch from Cutler in the loss.
Cutler thew a pass intended for Knox in the game’s waning moments.
Unfortunately, Packers cornerback Al Harris stepped into the passing lane for the game-clinching interception.
The Windy City faithful caught a glimpse of Johnny Knox’s potential at Soldier Field a week later.
Knox recorded his first NFL touchdown that tied the game at 14 apiece against the visiting Pittsburgh Steelers on a crucial third-down possession.
Robbie Gould’s 44-yard field goal with 15 seconds left on the game clock sealed Chicago’s victory.
At that point in Knox’s young NFL career, he had already caught for 152 yards and a touchdown on eight receptions.
“Nobody knows who I am. I’m just trying to go out there and make plays to help my team win,” Knox told ESPN’s Jon Greenberg. “I always thought I could play at this level. I just had to make the transition and show I can.”
Two weeks later, Knox took a page from Devin Hester after the former scored on a 102-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions.
𝐎𝐜𝐭𝐨𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟒, 𝟐𝟎𝟎𝟗
Rookie Johnny Knox returns a kick-off 102 yards for a touchdown as Bears demolish the Lions 48-24. #BearDown pic.twitter.com/LGP6suRcNg
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) October 4, 2020
Knox’s best game of his rookie year was his 83-yard, one-touchdown production on five receptions in a 21-14 loss to the Packers on December 13, 2009.
He finished the year with 527 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 45 receptions.
Alas, the Bears won just seven games in the 2009 NFL season and missed the postseason for the third straight year.
Johnny Knox ranked second in the NFL with a return yard average of 29.0.
Better yet, he made it to the Pro Bowl as a replacement for Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Percy Harvin, who backed out because of injury concerns.
Knox played well for the NFC”s special teams. He ran for 103 kick return yards in his team’s 41-34 loss to the AFC.
Bears head coach Lovie Smith and Co. turned their fortunes around in 2010.
Johnny Knox was part of a Bears team that won eleven games and reached the 2010 NFC Championship Game.
Knox took the field for all sixteen games and caught for 960 yards and five touchdowns on 51 receptions.
He got off to a slow start – he didn’t catch a touchdown until Chicago’s 21-14 loss to the then-Washington Redskins in Week 7.
After Knox broke his slump, the Bears promptly won seven of their final eight games.
Knox’s best game of the year was his 92-yard, two-touchdown effort in a 38-34 win over the New York Jets in the season finale on December 26, 2010.
It was Johnny Knox’s first and only multiple-touchdown game of his short, three-year NFL career.
Knox caught a 40-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler early in the third quarter.
He scored on the decisive 26-yard touchdown after beating Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie several minutes later.
Knox hauled in 48 receiving yards on four receptions in his first postseason game – a 35-24 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC Divisional Round on January 16, 2011.
Unfortunately, Chicago could not go any further.
They lost to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game on January 23, 2011, 21-14.
Knox caught for 56 yards on two receptions in the Bears’ loss.
Here is some Johnny Knox nostalgia to start your Friday morning 🐻⬇️pic.twitter.com/Jvhlvwd86k
— Bears Nation (4-7) (@BearsNationCHI) August 13, 2021
The Bears sought redemption in the 2011 NFL season.
They got off to a strong start – they won seven of their first ten games in 2011.
On the other end of the spectrum, Knox started the season in slow fashion once again: he didn’t record a touchdown until the Bears’ 31-20 triumph over the then-San Diego Chargers in Week 11.
This time around, Chicago went on a tailspin after Johnny Knox scored his first touchdown of the season.
The Bears lost five of their final six games to fall out of playoff contention.
Regrettably, they didn’t just lose games, they also lost their third-year Pro Bowl wide receiver.
December 19, 2011 is a date that will live on in infamy not only in Johnny Knox’s NFL career, but the Bears’ organization as well.
The Bears were trying to salvage their season against the visiting Seattle Seahawks.
Chicago ultimately lost in blowout fashion, 38-14.
Just four minutes into the game, Knox caught a pass from quarterback Caleb Hanie.
After Seahawks safety Kam Chancellor knocked the ball loose, Knox dived for the pigskin.
Six-foot-three, 272-lb. Seattle defensive end Anthony Hargrove hit Knox hard at full speed during the scramble for the loose ball.
The massive hit bent Knox’s back in grotesque fashion.
𝐃𝐞𝐜𝐞𝐦𝐛𝐞𝐫 𝟏𝟖, 𝟐𝟎𝟏𝟏 | 🙏
Johnny Knox suffers an injury that would unfortunately end his career.
Knox finished his career with 133 receptions and 12 touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/ZSWRpBqkEo
— This Day in Chicago Sports (@ChiSportsDay) December 18, 2019
According to physical rehabilitation expert Dr. Brian Sutterer (via Sportscasting.com’s Bradley Geiser), Hargrove’s hit folded Knox’s spine and damaged his nerves.
Knox, who lay on the Soldier Field grass writhing in pain for several minutes before being wheeled off on a stretcher, ultimately sustained a thoracolumbar fracture-dislocation.
A remorseful Hargrove apologized to Knox for the incident.
For their part, the Bears placed Knox on their season-ending injured reserve list the following day.
Regrettably, Johnny Knox played in his final NFL game.
Worse, the incident occurred just five days after Knox and his wife SanDerriqua welcomed their second child Johnny Knox III.
Knox spent the start of the 2012 NFL campaign on Chicago’s physically unable-to-perform (PUP) list.
After a year of rehabilitation and therapy, Knox lived his life off the gridiron in discomfort.
He limped whenever he walked and felt uncomfortable whenever he stood. It was only when he was lying down that he didn’t feel pain.
“I was centimeters away from being paralyzed, so just sitting here and talking, I’m appreciative of that,” Knox told the Chicago Sun-Times (via NFL.com’s Gregg Rosenthal) in February 2013. “Just the hard work that I had to put in. Just to be able to stay in and do everything in my daily life that I used to do.”
The Bears ultimately released him that month.
One day after Chicago terminated Knox’s contract, he announced his retirement from the National Football League.
At that point in his gridiron career, he told the Chicago Sun-Times (via The Sports Xchange) he knew it was all over:
“As an athlete, you don’t want to give up, you want to keep on fighting. That’s how I’ve always been.”
“But it’s been on my heart for a while. I know how my body feels, and I know I’m not going to be the same and perform at the ability that I used to.”
“So I’m moving on and going forward.”
Johnny Knox concluded his three-year stint in the NFL with 2,214 receiving yards, 1,506 kickoff return yards, and 13 touchdowns in 45 career games.
Johnny and SanDerriqua Knox have four children.
Lovie Smith, Johnny Knox’s former head coach with the Chicago Bears, hired him to work as a coaching intern for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2015 NFL season.
The experience awakened Knox’s passion for coaching football.
He became the Carmel Corsairs (the football team of Carmel High School) wide receivers coach in 2018.
According to The Athletic’s Kevin Fishbain, Corsairs head football coach Blake Annen – a former Chicago Bears tight end – discussed the possibility of coaching his receivers with Knox.
The two trained together three years before Knox accepted the offer – his first full-time coaching job.
“I still have a love for the game,” Knox told The Athletic in October 2018. “That’s why I’m out here. I don’t think I could ever lose the love.”
30 (Carmel) Facts in 30 Days
Bear Down, Chicago Bears! And also to our three former Monsters of the Midway who now serve on our football coaching staff: Head Coach Blake Annen, Receivers Coach Johnny Knox, and Tight Ends coach Jason McKie. @CarmelCorsairs @Carmel_Football pic.twitter.com/kIEDItfZth
— Carmel Catholic High School (@CCHSCorsairs) September 2, 2019
Knox, who still walks with a limp, also admitted to Fishbain his players sometimes ask him about the freak injury that ended his NFL career.
Knox doesn’t mind at all. In fact, he uses the injury as a platform to teach up-and-coming gridiron warriors a valuable lesson – it’s how you bounce back from adversity that counts.
Former Chicago Bears fullback Jason McKie also works as one of Annen’s assistant coaches.
Knox likes to lift weights, per ApacheAthletics.com.
He considers former Los Angeles Sparks center Lisa Leslie his favorite athlete. His favorite sports movie is “Mighty Ducks 2.”
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