Prep football | Kelvin McKnight catching on at Manatee, just like cousin Ace Sanders

Like Sanders, Manatee's McKnight is a No. 1 receiving threat

jlembo@bradenton.comOctober 4, 2013 

BRADENTON -- His name is Kelvin McKnight.

It says so right there on Manatee's roster and inside those glossy programs sold to fans at least five times a year at Hawkins Stadium.

But last week against Southeast, the Hurricanes' junior wide receiver was inadvertently called a different name by head coach Joe Kinnan.

"He called me Ace during the game," McKnight said. "He said, 'Ace, Ace -- come here.' I was like, 'All right, I'm coming, coach.'"

McKnight is doing a fine job carving his own legacy, nabbing an area-high 25 catches for a Manatee team that opens Class 8A-District 7 play Friday night against visiting Riverview.

But he has no problem being mistaken for Ace Sanders, a four-year starter at Manatee who is now a rookie for the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, Sanders is more than a cousin to McKnight.

Growing up, McKnight considered Sanders one of his football heroes.

They play the same position.

They wear the same number.

And many times this season, McKnight has shown flashes of his cousin's speed and big-play ability.

"I always looked up to

him when I was coming out here in sixth, seventh grade," McKnight said while sitting outside Manatee's fieldhouse Wednesday evening.

A chain-link fence runs along the Hurricanes' expansive practice field that sits behind Hawkins Stadium. McKnight remembers standing there alongside Ace's mother, Twanda, and watching his cousin run routes and return kicks in preparation for Friday night's opponent.

Sanders wore No. 1 while starting for four years with the Hurricanes. So does McKnight.

"It's for Ace. I wanted No. 1," McKnight said. "I always grew up saying I was going to play for Southeast until I watched Ace play. And it changed after that."

At 5-0, Manatee is the top-ranked team in the state in Class 8A, and is ranked nationally by MaxPreps, USA Today and Rivals. Despite the perfect start, the Hurricanes have had to battle through injuries, including a sprained ankle that has kept Temple-bound receiver Brodrick Yancy out of two games.

Enter McKnight, who had 12 catches during Manatee's Week 1 win over Gilman, Md., to help spell Yancy.

"We've got some guys that have been hurt, so probably he and (receiver) Marquel (Hines) have been our go-to guys," Kinnan said. "He has tremendous body control and has that burst. And he can catch the ball, too."

McKnight said he learned plenty from his cousin, from running routes to how to keep chatty defensive backs from getting in your head, and worked out with Sanders this summer.

Consequently, McKnight hasn't had much trouble switching from the slot to the outside.

"There's kind of a change. I don't have to worry about more traffic," said McKnight, who has four touchdowns and is averaging more than 11 yards per catch. "I'm out there in an open space. The (coach) put me out there in open space ... and I've adapted to it."

Much has changed since a fence separated McKnight from his cousin, whose stay at Manatee included two trips to the final four and run to the 2009 Class 5A state title game.

And who knows? Maybe the next player to wear No. 1 will be mistakenly called Kelvin.

"It's been too fun," McKnight said. "I'm liking it."

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