MOULTRIE -- Brian Knighton has set some academic and athletic goals and was not about to let anything like a summer vacation stand in the way of working toward them.
The former Packers running back is back home this summer after his freshman year at Ft. Valley State, where he returned kickoffs and punts for the football team and earned a 3.56 grade point average in his studies.
Preparing for a bigger role on the football field and more challenges in the classroom, Knighton is taking two classes this summer at Abraham Baldwin College's Moultrie campus on the Courthouse Square. He also is working full-time at the Moultrie YMCA and makes sure he gets his weightlifting and running in so he'll be ready for the Aug. 3 opening of football camp.
"I didn't want to waste time this summer," Knighton said this week. "I'm trying to stay focused.
"I've made up my mind and I know what I've set out to do. And I want to keep my grades up."
Knighton is taking English and psychology at ABAC, attending class in the mornings and two nights a week. He said he expects to get an A in English and a B in psychology as he works toward a degree in business administration.
And he also is setting his sights on a starting job in the Fort Valley State backfield next season. And after a 170-yard, two-touchdown effort during the Wildcats spring game, he may be on his way to accomplishing that goal as well.
"It's in the hands of the coaches," the 5-foot-10, 180-pounder said. "But in my evaluation, they told me that the way I played in the spring, there was no way they could keep me off the field."
The performance in the spring game was the kind the Colquitt County fans got used to seeing from Knighton when he led the Packers in rushing in 2001 and 2002. He finished his career with 1,550 yards on 286 carries and scored 18 touchdowns.
But he did not carry the ball from scrimmage as a freshman at Fort Valley last season and it appeared early on as if the staff would red-shirt him.
But after a practice during which several of the backs were running sprints, the coaches noticed Knighton was routinely beating the others.
They asked him if he could run back punts and kickoffs. He had returned kickoffs for the Packers, but had not fielded punts since he was a B-team player.
Still, he worked his way on to the kickoff return, punt return and kickoff coverage team. And he nearly broke his first kickoff return for a touchdown, carrying it 61 yards.
"Kickoff returns felt natural," Knighton said. "I fell into that easily."
And it helped that John Morgan, Ft. Valley's first-year coach, showed some faith in him.
"Right before the first game I played in, I was stretching and getting ready and he came up and said, 'Brian, I know you're nervous. But if I didn't believe in you, I wouldn't put you in there.'"
But not everything came easily last year. Although he said he was "ready, but nervous," during preseason camp last year, he had some second thoughts. Calls to his mother and toColquitt County assistant coach Darius Dawson help alleviate some of his misgivings.
"They both motivated me and inspired me," he said.
More confident of his abilities this year, Knighton can help theFort Valley football team build on its 7-4 record posted a year ago.
The Wildcats went into their season-finale againstAlbany State needing a victory to clinch the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship and a berth in the Pioneer Bowl. ButAlbany State came up with a 27-17 victory.
Morgan is optimistic about the 2004 season, which opens on Aug. 28 with a game against Morehouse in Macon.
With the exception of linebacker and defensive line, the Wildcats should be deep. And they could get some help from previously unheralded players.
Like Brian Knighton.