The first time Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez hooked up with the Jets’ seventh-round pick Scotty McKnight on the football field was when the two were in elementary school.
McKnight was then eight years old and, like Sanchez, was a ball boy for Santa Margarita High School when Carson Palmer was the then-quarterback. During halftime of those games, the ball boys would meet in the endzone for brief games of touch football.
Sanchez and McKnight would often be paired together in those impromptu games and the beginning of their chemistry on and off the field was instant. The two boys became close and through a meshing of personalities they were inseparable during their formative years.
“We loved going out there and playing together — those early days — it was just fun,” McKnight told Metro. “I think we sort of clicked back then. He was a little older than me, but we had a lot in common even back then.”
Now they share a common locker room and McKnight, a former college walk-on, is hoping to share a team with his friend.
It was in high school that the two really began to develop the close bond that continues to today. Though they went to different high schools, McKnight remembers running routes and playing 7-on-7 with Sanchez in the summer. There were trips to the mall together, stops for pizza and of course, road trips.
Sanchez went on to USC and had a storied career that led him to become the No. 5 selection in the 2009 NFL Draft. McKnight walked on at Colorado and went on to find his own success. He is near the top of a number of receiving records in Boulder. As teenagers, and even in college, they’d talk about playing together someday, just like they did during halftime of Santa Margarita games when they were in fourth grade. Neither thought it would come to reality.
“We talked about it for sure, but never thought it’d really, actually happen,” McKnight said. “It was something nice to think about — that someday he’d be throwing passes to me in the NFL. Did I think it’d actually happen? No, not really. I can’t believe it now.”
Sanchez recalls a conversation with Jets general manager Mike Tannenbaum and head coach Rex Ryan about his childhood friend, telling them both to keep an eye on McKnight prior to his senior season in 2010. There was never a point where McKnight asked for a good word from Sanchez, but the quarterback’s scouting report helped spark an interest in the wide receiver.
It was an interest that culminated in McKnight being a third-day selection.
“I told Rex and Mike to keep an eye on Scotty at Colorado and that he was about to break some records his senior year, which he did. Other than that, the Jets asked me questions about Scotty and I answered them honestly, like I would for any player,” Sanchez told Metro. “I was able to provide more detailed info in Scotty’s case because we have been friends so long, but I expressed to them some of the things that I knew about him — high football I.Q., ferocious competitor, coach’s son, hard worker, great route runner and tough.”
Sanchez helped organize involuntary workouts in June — during the lockout — and McKnight stayed in New Jersey to train at TEST Sports Club in Martinsville. Their four-day-a-week schedule involved a heavy lifting session in the morning and then passing drills with other teammates in the afternoon.
The two were finding chances to laugh and smile, even during the grind of the workout schedule. McKnight has moved his belongings into Sanchez’s apartment about 10 minutes west of the team’s practice facility and they have discussed being roommates.
“We’re just both laid back; nothing bothers us really. It’s chill between us,” McKnight said. “I don’t really get too bothered or too ‘up’ about anything until game day. It works between the two of us like that.”
And as preseason camp unfolds and McKnight gets a chance to run his routes — this time catching balls not from Sanchez, but from Mark Brunell, Drew Willy and Greg McElroy — he’s hoping to justify to Ryan and the coaching staff his best friend’s scouting report. The reports have been good on McKnight so far with his work ethic and hands being praised by teammates and coaches.
“He has quick feet to get in and out of routes. He has 4.4 speed. He’s a grinder and a very smart player — willing to prepare like crazy and get into the playbook,” Sanchez said. “He has a very high football IQ which is important for a first-year player to succeed. At the end of the day, he’ll do whatever it takes to get on the field and once he does, he’ll give it everything he’s got.”
In McKnight, Sanchez is potentially getting a receiver with good hands and a potential target for the next decade. The two are excited to be teammates on the field and there is potential for the dynamic duo off the field as well.
“I’ve been his wingman plenty of times and he’s been mine too, many, many times,” McKnight said. “And I will be again I’m sure.”
Follow Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer for live updates from Jets camp, including breaking news and photos of the team in action.