Romeo McKnight and Gavin Dineen had big plans this fall.
McKnight, a Crystal Lake Central graduate, was going to spend his final college season at Football Championship Subdivision member Illinois State, where he was a preseason All-America defensive end for a team that was ranked in the top 10 nationally in several polls.
Dineen, a Marian Central grad, was one of more than a dozen Drake University football players who were returning for a fifth year at the FCS school in Des Moines, Iowa.
Amid the COVID-19 cancellations across numerous FCS conferences, both players have vastly altered their original plans thanks to the NCAA transfer portal.
McKnight is playing his final season at Football Bowl Subdivision member Charlotte, 700 miles away from ISU’s national championship aspirations. Dineen is finishing classes in Des Moines before he joins Indiana State in January while enjoying every last moment with friends.
“I’ve definitely learned not to get too high and not to get too low,” said Dineen, an All-Pioneer Football League first-team defensive tackle the past two seasons. “You have to try to fill yourself with good energy and drown out the bad.”
McKnight has started two of Charlotte’s first three games, piling up 10 tackles against Florida Atlantic and 1.5 sacks versus North Texas.
“I had to come in and learn quick,” McKnight said. “I’m learning a different position and a new defense. It has made me a better player and a more versatile player. It’s been fun.”
McKnight played end in Illinois State’s 3-4 defense, but his job is different in Charlotte’s 4-2-5 alignment, including dropping into pass coverage at times.
“It’s stuff I didn’t have to do for a couple years,” McKnight said. “But I played linebacker in high school. I just had to brush the dust off. Now I’m feeling comfortable.”
McKnight needed an NCAA waiver to play immediately this fall after the FCS Missouri Valley Football Conference postponed its season until spring 2021. He learned it was approved only days before Charlotte’s opener against Appalachian State.
“That’s what made my situation a little tough,” he said. “The best option for me was to play this fall and get ready for the NFL.”
Playing this fall, according to McKnight, will allow him to get attention from scouts, ensure he can take part in postseason all-star games and have a pro day.
Jim Nagy, the executive director of the Senior Bowl, the premier all-star game, tweeted earlier this month about McKnight and several other prospects who have improved their standing this fall.
Like McKnight, an NCAA waiver stands between Dineen and getting on the field for his new school, which is also a member of the MVFC.
After Drake’s conference postponed its season, Dineen had discussions with several FBS teams before their conferences also decided to postpone. Indiana State’s consistent interest was a major selling point.
“They were so patient with me through all the uncertainty,” said Dineen, who will graduate in December from Drake and study for his MBA on full scholarship for the Sycamores.
A defensive tackle who was a two-time, All-Pioneer first teamer the past two seasons, Dineen also hopes to draw NFL interest. But first, he hopes to be on the field this spring when Indiana State opens its season Feb. 27 at Southern Illinois.
“Fingers crossed,” said Dineen, who expects to learn about his NCAA waiver in the next month.
The NCAA has ruled that it will allow football players to compete both in the spring and fall in 2021.
“If it’s spring and fall, the more the merrier,” Dineen said. “I think it can only help me getting more reps on tape.”
All-MVC for Krutwig: Jacobs grad Cameron Krutwig, a senior center at D-I Loyola Chicago, was named to the preseason All-Missouri Valley Conference first team in men’s basketball Thursday.
Krutwig, who has started 100 games in three seasons, averaged career highs last season in points (15.1 a game), rebounds (8.1), assists (4.2) and steals (39) while earning first-team All-MVC honors. While helping Loyola (21-11) to a second-place MVC finish last season, Krutwig became the first player in league history to finish in the top five in the conference in scoring, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage (.563).
The Ramblers open the season Dec. 30 at home against Drake.
Judson’s new addition: When NAIA Judson University’s women’s basketball team tips off its season Oct. 30 in Elgin, the Eagles will have a new face on the coaching staff.
Hampshire grad Emma Benoit will be serving as a graduate assistant coach for the program after a successful playing career. Benoit, who began her career at Northern Michigan University, spent the past two seasons at D-II University of Indianapolis.
At Indy, she started 48 games and led the team in rebounding two seasons in a row. As a junior, she also led the team in scoring and blocked shots.
• Barry Bottino writes about local college athletes for the Northwest Herald. Write to him at email@example.com and follow @BarryOnCampus on Twitter.