"This caliber of injury was never a fear of mine because it was so far out of sight," senior Fred Knight, a four-year member of the Huskies' men's basketball team, talks engineering, balancing a busy student-athlete life, recovering from a season-ending injury, and more. Knight is one of many USM student-athletes who manage to successfully balance academics, athletics, and more with distinction.
As part of NCAA Division III Week, Fred took the time to discuss his experience as one of 495 Southern Maine student-athletes. Earning his diploma this spring with a double major in Mechanical and Electrical Engineering, Fred was recently hired by General Dynamics Mission Systems.
Standing at 6-7, not much is out of sight for senior Fred Knight, a four-year member of the Huskies men's basketball team. A senior in the grueling engineering program, Fred is a double major in Mechanical and Electrical engineering.
"One discipline is directly correlated to the other. You can't have a robot without both disciplines combined. The beauty of this double major is the ability to see the big picture of a design. One that is well versed in both disciplines can design a system that will smoothly connect the mechanical operation with the electrical operation."
Despite the rigorous academic regimen that Fred has faced, he has loved his time learning from his professors: Dr. Mehrdaad Ghorashi; Dr. Lin Lin; Dr. Mariusz Jankowski; and Dr. Carlos Lück, along with the remainder of the outstanding Engineering Department at the University of Southern Maine.
"The engineering program here is personal in terms of attention. The faculty is amazing at providing one-on-one time with you. Engineering has many complex concepts, but the faculty teach you in a theoretical way, then back it up by giving you lab experiences that show you more of a real-world application. Engineering concepts are thoroughly understood when professors show how to design in theory, and then bring that theoretical design to life in real world application. The University of Southern Maine engineering department faculty have a firm grasp on what it takes to be a top tier engineer in today's rapidly growing industry. The futuristic vision of the faculty is given to the students with such passion and precision. When I came to USM I had an empty tool shed; I leave with a tool shed that has been completely remodeled with more tools than I can count, and more importantly, the knowledge of how to use them. I am so thankful for all of the faculty that have helped put me in the best position I can be in, to conquer the challenges that lay ahead."
Among being a double major, as well as a student-athlete, Fred was also an intern at The Cooperative Center for Aquaculture Research (CCAR).
"I was tasked with designing a pump system that drew in sea water to feed aquatic life all over the facility. The objective was to analyze the fluid mechanics side of this problem, and then correctly design an electrical pump with appropriate controls to satisfy the needs of the facility."
Fred, graduated with honors from Hampden Academy, and as a member of the boys' basketball team he earned all-tourney team recognition as a senior playing in the Maine State Basketball Championship tournament his senior year. Fred also was selected to the McDonald's All-Star team, and was presented with the Al Halliday Award his senior year – an award presented to student-athletes who demonstrate outstanding leadership capabilities. Fred's leadership and academic achievement continued through his career at Southern Maine. This fall, Fred was one of a record 183 Husky Student-Athletes who were recognized as William B. Wise Scholar Athletes. To earn this award, a student must have a minimum grade point average of 3.00, be a full-time student both semesters of the school year, and be a full-time member of an intercollegiate sport.
"I take great pride in being a student-athlete, student being the first priority. However, enough is not said about what being an athlete can do for you in the world of academia. It keeps your body fit, which in turn, keeps your mind fit."
This past November, Fred received the award for the third time, joining a very select group of Husky student-athletes.
"Everyone in the room understands your dedication, and with each additional year of being on such a prestigious list, it shows how the persistence of all of the great people that make up this athletic department. Students that earn this award are role models. Not only for the athletic department, but the University as a whole."
One of the most difficult parts about being a student-athlete can be the long distance travel for away games. Husky student-athletes face conference opponents that can be up to four and a half hours away. Combined with evening start times for some games, and early classes to accommodate practice times, a student-athlete's life can make for some hectic scheduling. Fred admitted that trying to juggle all of his responsibilities isn't always a simple task.
"Coming home on the bus late at night after an away game, with an 8 a.m. test on linear systems and signals, getting home at midnight being both hungry and tired, can prove difficult."
While some of the hardest work Fred has ever done was in the classroom, Fred would be fighting his hardest battle at the halfway point of his junior year.
"At Western Connecticut in December (2015), I got a block as a player was going up for a dunk, and then when I landed, a player coming in for a rebound landed on the outside of my knee. When someone's falling on the outside of your knee, it just gives way. This impact tore the ACL, MCL, and shredded most of the cartilage in my knee. "This caliber of injury was never a fear of mine because it was so far out of sight."
And so began 'The Process' a period of over a year dedicated to getting back to full health, and getting back on the court for his final season.
"I was telling everyone I was going to come back, but deep down, I didn't really know what the future held for my athletic career. The thought of lacing my shoes back up for my senior season nine months from then seemed like a mountain without a peak, but you never know until you start climbing."
Fred's first surgery was on January 12, 2016. "The first two months of this period were devoted to literally taking the first step … Then came strengthening and range of motion. I didn't play basketball again until September. The summer had its ups and downs. Some mornings, I would stand up from bed and instantly knew I pushed myself too hard in rehab the day before. I would sit back down and would have to physically push down on my knee to get it to straighten out."
"I learned very early in the summer that a very fine line existed between pushing yourself right up to your limits, and pushing yourself past the breaking point. Early in the summer, I felt a "pop" on the inside of my knee while rehabbing. After taking a week off, I returned to training; making sure I did not hit the breaking point, but flirting with my limits."
Despite adjusting his habits and being more mindful of his limits, Fred's path back to the playing his final season in Hill Gym wasn't without a few more hiccups.
"A week before my senior season, I found out that the repair of my meniscus had let go from the first surgery. The "pop" I had felt earlier in the summer was the repair of my meniscus letting go. My first thought was, "This is how it ends? I devoted the last 10 months of my life to preparing myself for my senior season and this, all of that, was a waste?" That thought flashed in my mind for about 1 millisecond. At that moment I realized something; this second surgery is just part of The Process!"
Fred's second surgery came on October 13, 2016. "That surgery was two days before the first practice of my senior season. They removed a large percentage of the cartilage in my knee." Thirty-six days later, Fred checked into the first game of his senior season.
Throughout the entire process of getting back into basketball, Fred had an Instagram account named "lov_the_process," which chronicled all the steps Fred took on his journey back to the hardwood. "Seven Weeks ago I woke up to a challenge. So, why not crush it?," a photo of him during a physical therapy session is captioned online.
"It speaks to all challenges, it pertains to more than just a physical hurdle. People face challenges in all aspects of life. Just give it your all every day, and don't look back."
His teammates and close friends have nothing but praise for him.
"Fred Knight is everything that you would look for in a teammate, a leader, and more importantly, a friend." says longtime friend and teammate Christian McCue. McCue and Fred have been friends and teammates dating back a young age, playing high school basketball together. "He's always been the biggest, strongest guy on the court. But, that pales in comparison to the strength of his character, and the size of his heart."
"He's definitely someone that brings a lot of energy to the team. He strives to make everyone better on and off the court," said James Lathrop, a freshman teammate. "Playing a similar position as Fred really drives me to get bigger and stronger, and play my best basketball."
Having spent time living both on and off campus, Fred has experience with the positives and negatives of both. When asked about the perks of both options, he shared the following:
Living on Campus:
- You're just a walk away from the gym/class/food
- You're really well connected with the social aspect of college, which is important too, building lifetime lasting relationships with great people
Living off Campus:
- Proved to be tough, especially when I was unable to walk after my second surgery, driving 30 minutes was hard, living on the beach was not
- Being able to tune your diet to exactly what you want/need
- Learning to cook for yourself before you're out of school
Having spent his whole college career balancing a social life as well as hard work in the classroom, and on the court, Fred shared the following tips for not only student-athletes, but for everyone going through life in college:
- College is a perfect time to grow new branches on your tree of life, new experiences are exactly what your tree needs to grow
- Don't be afraid to fail
- If you always try your hardest, you'll never have regrets
- Surround yourself with minds that think differently than yours. Learning different ways to think is powerful and pertains to all aspects of life.
- Listen to people talk. Hear their experiences. Experience is wisdom.