It had been since that first meeting with Klein that Knott had been totally healthy. He missed spring football this year, but was healthy, finally, for the preseason. Knott was there to celebrate with Klein when he returned an interception 87 yards for a touchdown against Texas Tech, the fourth interception return touchdown of his career, which tied the NCAA record for a linebacker.
Three games later, Knott re-injured the shoulder in a loss to Oklahoma State, but tried to get through it the following week. He wore a brace against Baylor Oct. 27 and made 11 tackles, broke up a pass and forced a fumble in a win against Baylor.
"Even when he's banged up," Klein said, "he still makes big plays."
The pain and the danger were too much. The Cyclones decided enough was enough for Knott. His season and his college career were both finished. A few days later, he received a hand-written note from Texas Coach Mack Brown.
"I try to send a note to any young man, especially one in our league, who I got to know by watching him play and admiring him through the years," Brown said. "This young man was a great player, but by all accounts he was a better young man. I hate that any young man who is as passionate about the game as he is gets the latter part of his senior year taken from him."
Knott gushed about the note on Twitter and it helped him stand tall in the low moments. Iowa State moved Klein to Knott's spot and Knott tried his hardest to mentor the next in line. Jeremiah George made 17 tackles in the team's first game without Knott.
"We had another body out there," Iowa State Coach Paul Rhoads said, "but you don't replace him."
The Cyclones (6-5, 3-5) lost their first two games without Knott. George totaled 34 tackles and Klein managed just 11. The slide ended with Saturday's 51-23 win against Kansas, when Sam Richardson, the third-string redshirt freshman quarterback, came off the bench in the first quarter and threw for 250 yards and four touchdowns.
Kansas, the league's second-best rushing offense, ran 48 times for 252 yards. In three games, Iowa State's defense has dropped from No. 37 to No. 59 in rushing defense, from No. 30 to No. 52 in pass efficiency defense, from No. 65 to No. 93 in total defense and from No. 26 to No. 30 in scoring defense.
"We've missed Jake Knott a lot," Rhoads said. "Jeremiah George has filled in where A.J. was playing and we moved A.J. to Jake's position and their numbers have been good, but we miss Jake's leadership, we miss his physical abilities and we miss his production."
Contact sportswriter Mike Casazza at mi...@dailymail.com or 304-319-1142. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/wvu.