DAMASCUS -- After many offers to ponder, Southwest Georgia Academy star running back Nile Knapp signed his name Thursday in the same fashion he shined on the football field at three high schools, including Sherwood Christian -- effortlessly.
Not only is Knapp fulfilling both a personal and family dream of playing in college, he's proving once and for all he is capable of taking it to the next level.
"It feels amazing because so many people doubted I could do this," said Knapp, who played his first season at Summit (Fla.) Christian and the next two at Sherwood before transferring to SGA his senior year. "This is special, like a gigantic weight was taken off my shoulders."
Now that it is, he can focus on what he does best -- carrying the football. Last season at Southwest Georgia Academy, he rushed for 2,192 yards and 33 touchdowns, earning both Herald All-Area and GISA All-State honors. During the past four years, he's rushed for 6,019 rushing yards (10.4-yard average) and 87 scores.
Knapp's father, Ted "Rock" Knapp, however, said he doubted his son felt much revenge against doubters when he signed with Lindenwood.
"With Nile, there is no ego there, that is what makes him so special," said Rock, who was Sherwood's head coach while Nile played there and was an assistant last season at SGA. "I'm really proud of Nile. He's gone and worked really hard. His goal, all along, has been to play college football and now he gets to do it."
Since Rock was diagnosed with cancer in 2008, his urgency to see Nile go to college for his dream was as fierce as ever.
"He wanted me to play college football just as bad as I wanted to," Nile said.
Knapp chose Lindenwood after receiving full-scholarship offers from schools such as Delta State and Cumberland College. Lindenwood, which competes in the NAIA, held several attractive qualities. First of all, the team seems a perfect fit for Knapp who can play both running back and slot receiver. Second of all, the team is considered a national contender almost every year and lost in last season's national title game against Sioux Falls (which, coincidentally, also offered Knapp a scholarship).
"I think (Lindenwood) is a fit for me in every way," he said. "I felt a connection with the coaches, and the players I met while visiting there were pretty cool, too."
Rock likes the choice as well.
"Their offense fits his talent," Rock added. "Once he gets there, he will be as motivated as ever. The neat thing about Lindenwood is that they even expressed an interest in Nile as early as his sophomore and junior seasons."
And although David Bell was Nile's head coach at SGA for only one season, he said he had seen enough to be convinced he can succeed at Lindenwood.
"Oh he will succeed, definitely," said Bell, who had another player, tailback Keaton Smith, sign with the University of the Cumberlands last year. "When they play him in the right positions, he will be one of their top running backs."
The only football-related challenge these days for the Knapp family is distance, as Lindenwood -- just outside St. Louis -- is roughly 12 hours away. Off the field, Rock had a bone-marrow biopsy last week and should find out next week if he remains in remission. That would be all that keeps a father from watching his son play the game he loves.
"We will go to as many times as we can, my health permitting," Rock said.