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Knapke still leading from sideline

October 21, 2016

James Knapke is one of Bowling Green’s most respected players in the locker room.

The fifth-year senior earned the most votes when the team selected captains prior to the season. He’s a natural leader.

Knapke is still that same leader even since being benched for redshirt freshman James Morgan.

Morgan took over for Knapke after the final nonconference game of the season, and Knapke couldn’t have handled it any better.

“I’ve been coaching for 22 years and it was probably one of the most difficult conversations I’ve had to have,” Falcons coach Mike Jinks said. “Morgan has done a great job and he is the future of our football program, but I thought that (Knapke) had done everything that he needed to do to give himself an opportunity to lead this football program.

“We didn’t do what we needed to do around him, myself included.”

Knapke went 1-3 as a starter this season after going 8-5 as the signal caller in 2014. He completed just 49.6 percent of his passes for 636 yards and three touchdowns. But the nine interceptions through four games caused the red flag.

“We were struggling, and we’re a young team, and I think he was just looking for a spark,” Knapke said of the move. “I understood it. It’s a young team and J-Mo is the future. He can kind of go through the ups and downs that we were going through and that will help them build for the future.

“That’s just kind of the way college football goes.”

Knapke had little help from his wide receivers who had dropped pass after dropped pass. The unit never seemed to entirely be on the same page as Knapke. In a loss at Memphis, two dropped passes were the direct cause for interceptions that both turned into Memphis touchdowns.

“A lot of those receivers came up and apologized to me and said, ‘It’s not all your fault,’” Knapke said. “It’s just kind of the way it goes with the quarterback position. If things aren’t going well they’ve got to make a change.

“The older guys on this team kind of understand that. They just want to win games.”

The focus for Knapke has shifted to mentoring and helping to mold Morgan for not only the rest of this season, but the next few years.

Having seen action in all seven games this season, including starts in the last three weeks, Morgan has thrown for 1,041 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s completed 57.7 percent of his passes and has been intercepted eight times.

Morgan has yet to earn his first career win despite showing obvious improvement each week.

After last week’s 42-35 loss to Toledo he was named the Mid-American Conference East Division offensive player of the week. Morgan threw for a career-high 335 yards and five touchdowns in the contest, and after the award was announced, Knapke was one of the first to congratulate him.

“Being here for this long and going through the ups and downs that I’ve gone through, coming into this year we all had team and personal goals,” Knapke said. “Those things have kind of changed now, and we’ve got to fight each and every week.

“Right now I’m just trying to help him and give him all the knowledge that I’ve gained over the years and help him out during games. ... He comes to the sidelines and I can kind of tell him what I see and kind of bounce ideas off of each other. Each and every week I think he’s gaining more and more confidence.”

Jinks admitted that there was a worry of divide in the locker room after making the change, but it never happened. The older players have embraced Morgan, who has already become a vocal leader in the offensive huddle.

Much of the confidence and leadership, he learned from his backup — Knapke.

“That’s something special about him,” Knapke said, “is he’s always trying to learn something new and if you can teach him something or show him something, he’s all ears.”