Anthony Knighton’s play on Saturdays for Southern Illinois says a lot.
But when it comes to using his voice, the senior defensive end is not nearly as loud as any of the 21.5 sacks and 35 tackles for loss he has piled up during his career in Carbondale.
“He’s a very quiet personality, especially around these buildings,” SIU defensive coordinator Jason Petrino said this week on a media conference call. “He’s not going to be the rah-rah guy or the Ray Lewis type. He’s going to be the guy who goes out there to work and get himself prepared.”
As the Salukis prepare for their lone game this fall -- Oct. 30 when they host regional rival Southeast Missouri -- Knighton is a key piece of SIU’s experienced defensive front. He has started 34 consecutive games and contributed to the team’s 39 sacks last season, its highest team total since 2000, when the Salukis had 41 sacks.
The defense also allowed only 23 points a game last year, nearly half of what it gave up in 2018.
The Salukis hope that defensive improvement continues against SEMO and into the spring, which opens for SIU on Feb. 20 against South Dakota State.
Knighton spent the extended off-season honing his skills and leading those around him.
“In January and February, leading up to spring ball, his lifting group had a couple extra D-lineman,” Petrino said. “They would follow him to the turf to get some field work done outside of the lift. He’d take three or four of those young D-lineman. Over the summer, that list grew bigger and bigger. They want to emulate him, so they’re out there working with him.”
Knighton’s best skills are his preparation and plenty of physical tools.
“He’s a combination of athleticism and power,” Petrino said of the 6-foot-4, 251-pound Knighton. “He studies a lot of film, and he watches some NFL guys. It’s our job as coaches to put him in situations where he’s getting one-on-one blocks and an opportunity to make a play.”
Around the MVFC, graduations, transfers and players opting out to prepare for the NFL draft have elevated Knighton to among the league’s most elite returning pass rushers.
But recognition, according to Petrino, isn’t what drives his standout defensive end.
“He’s won some awards and gotten some recognition, but none of that stuff is important to him,” Petrino said. “He just wants to win. That’s the attitude he has.”