RIDGEFIELD — It was early May, and Trey Knight came out of his room in his family’s home in between Battle Ground and Ridgefield, called over his parents and told them to sit down. He had something to show them.
The gentle, soft-spoken Ridgefield High School senior surprised Beau and Heather Knight with a slideshow presentation on why he should play football his senior season, which had been a source of tension in the household for months.
His mother feared he would get hurt if he played. There was also concern that his throwing skills could regress over a full season of football. Either could result in a step back for the nationally-ranked hammer thrower. But every scenario, every counterargument, his powerpoint had answers for.
“He thought about the whole thing. He’s so passionate about football,” Heather Knight said. “Honestly in 17 years that was the first time we’ve ever had an argument with Trey. He’s the best kid. After seeing it, there was no way I could tell him no.”
Knight, a two-time Gatorade Washington state boys track athlete of the year and two-time 2A state champion in the discus and shot put, has his pick of the top Division I programs in the country to throw the hammer — USC, Penn State and LSU to name a few. He has recorded the third-best high school hammer throw of all time, and beyond college, has his eyes set on qualifying for the 2024 Tokyo Olympics.
“I wanted to play football all four years, but thinking about it, it was probably best to stick with track. That’s where my future’s at, a lot of people say,” said Knight.
“But it’s my last year of high school, I still really missed it.”
Friday night’s in the stands at Ridgefield football games the past three falls were hard for Knight, who played football from second to eighth grade. But his family’s concern over the possibility of a major injury hindering his future in throwing won out, and Knight understood.
His mom, Heather, and cousin, Jon Lawson, were state champion throwers in high school at Battle Ground and Prairie, respectively, under the tutelage of Trey Knight’s grandfather, John Gambill.
Knight has won two 2A state championships in the discus and two in the shot put, but his best event — the hammer — isn’t offered at the high school level in Washington.
He holds the national record hammer throw for a high school freshman with a 218-08 mark, according to statistician Bob Gourley. He was quick to surpass that mark, and in July threw a 256-06, the best high school hammer throw of the year and fifth-best all-time.
Before his high school career is up, Knight is gunning for the record — 260-05 — set by Rudy Winkler of Averill Park, New York in 2013. Park went on to compete for team USA in the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.
Kids who played with Knight at the Pop Warner level recall him dominating. Now he’s 6-foot-1, 220 pounds, and in limited action on the gridiron, Knight has shown flashes of being special, according to first-year Ridgefield head coach Scott Rice. He will likely play wide receiver and defensive end.
“He did some stuff at camp that in a decade of doing this and 22 years of playing football I’ve never seen a kid do in person, let alone on film,” Rice said. “He took a couple kids in camp and straight deposited them to their backsides. Not a bull-rush. Literally, like NFL, lifted them off the ground. That’s not normal for a kid that hasn’t played football in his high school career.”
Knight hopes to add an explosive option to a Spudders team that returns key skill position pieces from a team that went 3-5 overall and 1-5 in the 2A Greater St. Helens League last year. After defending 2A state champion Hockinson, which brings back much of its championship core, many coaches see the league being wide open.
That’s where an elite athlete only stands to help the Spudders. And while an overlap between throwers and football players is not uncommon, more often than not throwers are linemen. But Knight possesses the rare athleticism to jump into a skill position.
Rice said that’s where the strength, elite technique — understanding how to get underneath a guy and utilize leverage points — and explosiveness required to excel at throwing events translated immediately onto the gridiron.
The conditioning, however, did not.
After Knight’s entire body was cramping after the first day in pads at Linfield College team camp, Rice met the challenge and doubled his conditioning.
“The first month was really hard, but now it’s been getting better,” he said. “I can run and not die the next day.”
He’s continued to train with his grandfather and throws coach, John Gambill, and will still compete regionally and nationally on the weekends this fall. But Knight’s primary focus is adjusting his body to a sport that requires many different types of fitness.
And the college coaches recruiting him have been supportive, he said.
His family has come around to the idea of watching him and his sophomore brother Carson Knight play on Friday nights. And the promises made to his family, which included keeping up with throwing workouts in addition to football, have been met.
“He’s passionate about it,” Heather Knight said. “And so far he’s living up to it.”