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Prep football: An underdog story

Golden Valley center is High School Football Rudy Awards finalist

Posted: December 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.
Updated: December 19, 2011 1:55 a.m.

Golden Valley senior offensive lineman Taylor McKnight, a High School Football Rudy Awards finalist, hopes to attend Notre Dame.

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Golden Valley’s Taylor McKnight first saw the movie "Rudy" when he was a little kid.

Now he’s practically living it.

The 18-year-old offensive lineman was announced Dec. 11 as a finalist for the High School Football Rudy Awards given to student athletes with inspirational stories and who have a positive impact on the programs in which they’re involved.

What started as more than 400 nationwide nominees was cut down to 50 semifinalists on Nov. 1 before it narrowed to only 12 athletes, including McKnight.

"I was taken by surprise," McKnight said. "I was surprised I was even nominated and then it was down to 50 semifinalists and then when it got down to the 12 finalists, I was just like, ‘Wow, this is crazy.’"

Both the movie and the award are named after former University of Notre Dame football player Daniel Ruettiger — nicknamed Rudy — who is the subject of a classic underdog story in which an undersized, relatively unskilled athlete achieved his dream of playing for his favorite college football team, which was a national powerhouse at the time in 1975.

The award is presented by a youth charity organization called Inspireum and the winner will be announced on Jan. 15, at which point a $7,500 scholarship will be awarded by the Trusted Sports Foundation.

All of the athletes chosen have some kind of underdog story of their own, but don’t necessarily make a big impact statistically.

That’s the idea behind the award, according to the website.

"What the award stands for, courage, commitment, character, the kid is just an outstanding student athlete," said Golden Valley head coach Robert Fisher. "In the four years I’ve known him, honestly I don’t think he’s missed a practice of football."

McKnight is listed as 5-foot-7, 210 pounds, securely placing him in the category of "small" for a starting center on a varsity football team.

Like it did for Rudy during his first season at Notre Dame, McKnight’s size kept him off the field for nearly his entire junior year on varsity.

It didn’t stop McKnight from showing up and doing his work at practice without a shred of resentment.

His work ethic eventually got him on the field this year, and he was later voted as a team captain by his teammates.

The parallels with Rudy don’t stop there.

Notre Dame also happens to be McKnight’s favorite college team.

"It’s almost been like a little nickname, especially because everyone knows Notre Dame is my favorite school," he said. "It’s like Taylor ‘Rudy’ McKnight."

The story of the Golden Valley senior can be seen in video form on the award’s website at HighSchoolRudyAwards.com under the "Top 12 Finalists" link.

Each of the finalists includes a short video with his or her profiles.

McKnight’s four-minute video features interviews from coaches, teachers and McKnight himself.

They discuss his schoolwork, which has led to a 4.08 GPA, and how he’s dealt with a birth defect that nearly cost him the opportunity to play sports in the first place.

He was born with a condition known as Craniosynostosis, which required surgery on his skull to allow it to form normally.

When McKnight was 11, he wanted to start playing football, but doctors recommended against it.

He decided to play anyway.

"My whole philosophy is I know I’m the smallest kid out there, but I’m going to play like I’m the biggest kid," McKnight said.

The winner will be decided by a selection committee made up of former and current professional players, coaches and broadcasters, as well as fan voting.

Those wishing to vote for McKnight can do so by visiting his profile on the award’s website.

If he doesn’t win the $7,500 scholarship, he’ll also have a chance at a $2,500 scholarship given to the four runners-up or $1,500 given to the fan favorite.

As a finalist, McKnight is already guaranteed a $1,000 scholarship and an autographed Rudy jersey with Notre Dame colors and Rudy’s old No. 45 on the back.

"It would mean everything (to him if he won)," Fisher said. "He’s a very humble guy, but at the same time, he has an opportunity to win $7,500 and be recognized in front of the nation."

And where would that scholarship money go?

McKnight has a few options, but so far he’s only applied to one school — Notre Dame.

And if he’s accepted, he hasn’t ruled out the possibility of trying to walk on and play football.

It’s the same way Rudy made the team.

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