Little Rock Central hasn’t had an All-America caliber football player in decades, but that sure doesn’t mean the neighborhood cupboard’s bare. Two speedsters who have recently grown up in an area a few blocks southwest of the downtown high school both merited Parade All-America honors as seniors: Darren McFadden (who attended what is now Maumelle High School) and Fredi Knighten of Pulaski Academy. No, they didn’t know each other – not like McFadden befriended another high profile private school star soon to be Knighten’s teammate.
But Fredi was certainly aware of the McFaddens, who lived three blocks away from the home into which his mother moved when he started middle school. On many evenings, he recalls hearing stereos booming from McFadden’s car as it rumbled down his street. Of course, McFadden was also making all kinds of noise in Fayetteville, where he solidified his place as the best Razorback running back of all time with consecutive Heisman runner-up finishes.
It’s yet to be seen whether Knighten, a quarterback, can translate his own outstanding prep success to the college level. But if he does, it will likely be to the Razorbacks’ recruiting detriment in central Arkansas. Arkansas State now has three new inroads into central Arkansas it didn’t have during its record-setting 2010 season – Gus Malzahn, a longtime Arkansas high school coach, along with Michael Dyer and Knighten, the area’s last two Parade All-Americans. If ASU continues to build on its recent success, Jonesboro can’t help but become a hotter destination for central Arkansas high school players. A Little Rock native like Knighten, or Dyer, throwing up All-American-type numbers while at ASU would likely lavish unprecedented amounts of media attention on the Red Wolves program.
At the same time, it’s important to note as a Top 5 team the Razorbacks are also becoming a hotter name, not just at home but everywhere around the nation. Arkansas no longer needs to rely on nabbing every 5-star recruit that comes out of central Arkansas (or Springfield, Mo., for that matter). Sure, Altee Tenpenny, North Little Rock’s star running back, recently said “aye” to Alabama. But with the wide net Petrino and his coaches are casting over the nation – especially Western states – that loss doesn’t hurt the program like it would have in the Houston Nutt years.
But in central Arkansas things could get interesting if ASU also starts pumping out 10 and 11-win seasons, and the area’s best recruits (typically 2 through 4 star-caliber) are enticed with the promise of more playing time at ASU than at UA. Recruiting battles may start bubbling up between the state’s two largest programs with unprecedented frequency.
Here are other extras from my recent Sync magazine profile of Knighten:
1. Fredi’s the second Parade All-American to sign with ASU in high school, following running back Jonathan Adams of Osceola. In 1997, the 6-0, 205-pound senior carried 220 times for 2,226 yards and 38 TDs for the Class A state champ (14-0). He set state records (since broken) in career rushing (6,723 yards) and rushing TDs (84). In college, he twice broke 1,000 yards in a season.
2. Knighten’s favorite movie:
3. Fredi credits some of his ability to accelerate better than most any other prep football player to a crazy dog named Taz he had as a kid. Taz, half Alaskan Husky, half German Shepherd, once jumped through the Knightens’ kitchen window to get into the house.
Nowadays, his beloved dogs seem a lot more mellow. Here are shots from last year of Fredi and his black lab, Jade: