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Photo Credit: Eric Francis

Terrance Knighton Drawing from Playing Days in Helping Husker Defensive Line

August 03, 2023

Beyond just having played defensive line in college, Nebraska assistant coach Terrance Knighton has some experience he can draw from in relating to the current Husker position group.

Prior to his seven-year NFL playing career, Knighton built up impressive production over four years at Temple. The 2009 third round draft pick accumulated 184 total tackles, 26 of those for a loss, along with six sacks, 12 pass deflections, four forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown.

The least impressive of those years came in his 2005 freshman season. That was Knighton’s only year in which he wasn’t a starter, along with being head coach Bobby Wallace’s final season. Wallace didn’t have a single winning season over seven years as coach, and the Owls went 0-11 in 2005 — their first season after being removed from the Big East Conference.

Then came Al Golden, bringing along with him defensive line coach Matt Rhule. While the team still went 1-11 in 2006 and didn’t earn a winning record until after Knighton’s departure, the defensive lineman broke out under Rhule with 57 tackles, three sacks and a pair of forced fumbles in his sophomore season. Rhule moved to coach other position groups after that, but Knighton’s success continued.

More than 15 years after that coaching change, Knighton is coaching a defensive line group that has just been introduced to Rhule after a coaching change — this time with him being Nebraska’s head coach.

“I tell those guys all the time, I’m a perfect example of someone who was with a previous coaching staff and then coach Rhule and the staff came in,” Knighton said at a press conference Tuesday. “It was a totally different atmosphere, a totally different style, discipline, culture, and I can give those guys examples of what I went through. I know exactly what they’re going through, but I push them through it, and try to help them with the mistakes that I made as a young guy, trying to adapt to a new culture and making sure they don’t do the same things.”

For Knighton at Temple, the change he needed to make was realizing that the staff’s culture wouldn’t change, so he had to adapt to it.

“As a young kid, I was stuck in my ways thinking I knew everything, doing things my way,” he said. “The culture didn’t change, and not being on the field hurt me the most. So I wanted to get on the field and I wanted to buy into the culture and not let my teammates down.”

In some form, all 17 of Nebraska’s listed defensive linemen are adjusting to a new coaching staff. Seven have spent at least one season with the Huskers. That includes Ru’Quan Buckley, a third-year lineman who has only appeared in one game at Nebraska but has been praised by Knighton and defensive coordinator Tony White.

Buckley said Tuesday that he appreciates Knighton’s hands-on coaching style when it comes to demonstrating technique, along with the mentality he’s brought to the unit.

“My relationship with coach Knighton, I would call it the same as everybody else’s. I feel like he helps us all as a group,” Buckley said. “He helps us develop and helps us by way of competition. He just keeps on saying competition, competition, competition. And when he said competition to me, I feel like it’s raising the standard and going against the guy next to you, and getting that guy better next to you every day.”

From returning players to newcomers, the Husker defensive line hopes to look improved under a new coaching staff. Knighton likes what he’s seen from the unit in the early stages of fall camp, both physically and mentally.

“We don’t have guys that, you know, take air out of the room,” Knighton said. “So our guys are just locked in right now and doing exactly what they’re told to do.

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