KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Running back Joe McKnight’s short career with the Kansas City Chiefs included a memorable performance on the field, but it’s the off the field person Chiefs coaches and players remember the most following the 28-year-old’s tragic shooting death Thursday.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid was among the those mourning the loss of McKnight.
“What a great kid. We appreciated having him here. Our hearts go out to his family.”
The shooting occurred Thursday afternoon in the New Orleans suburb of Terrytown, La. NOLA.com reported a witness saw the shooter yelling at McKnight before firing multiple shots at the victim.
Authorities named the shooter as Ronald Gasser, 54. The newspaper reported the Jefferson Parish Sheriff office questioned Gasser and released him. Authorities said McKnight did not have a gun in his possession.
McKnight grew up in Louisiana and attended high school in River Ridge. One of the nation’s premiere college football recruits, McKnight chose to attend USC where he rushed for more than 2,200 yards with 13 touchdowns in three seasons.
Chiefs running back coach Eric Bieniemy, a fellow Louisiana native, recruited McKnight as a college coach at UCLA and later proved instrumental in the Chiefs signing McKnight as a free agent.
“Eric’s down in the dumps a little bit,” Reid said. “It’s a rough thing.”
Linebacker Derrick Johnson was among former teammates expressing their grief over the passing of McKnight.
“It’s very tough whenever lose a talented guy like he was on and off the field,” Johnson said. “He has a son too. Nobody should every go through that. Just a senseless act that went on.”
Linebacker Tamba Hali remembers a positive person who was fun to have around on the team.
“Just being in the training room, being around him, he was always jokey, laughing,” Hali said. “Never tension between players and stuff like that.”
Wide receiver Albert Wilson, a Florida native, followed McKnight’s career early and played with him as a rookie.
“Growing up I looked up to him, playing at USC, coming from New Orleans,” Wilson said. “He was a great back. From the South, you kind of walk behind those who are in the spotlight, and Joe McKnight was one of those running backs growing up.”
The Jets selected McKnight in the fourth round of the 2010 NFL draft. He rushed for more than 500 yards over the course of three seasons, but made his biggest impact on special teams. McKnight averaged nearly 29 yards on kickoff returns in his career, and lead the NFL in kickoff return average in 2011.
McKnight signed as a free agent with the Chiefs after sitting out the 2013 season. His Chiefs career comprised just two games, but his performance Sept. 21, 2014 against the Miami Dolphins proved memorable. McKnight, filling in for injured running back Jamaal Charles, scored two touchdowns in a 34-15 win at Miami.
Five days later, McKnight sustained a torn Achilles injury in practice, ending his season and his NFL career.
Johnson, McKnight and defensive lineman Mike DeVito all sustained season-ending torn Achilles injuries that season and spent months rehabing together. Johnson said he got to know McKnight well as the three pushed each other through their recoveries.
“He was such a positive guy,” Johnson said. “He was always the life of the party. He only was here for a year but everybody knew Joe. Joe made an impact when he was here.”
McKnight’s death marks the second shooting death related to the team in recent weeks. The father of long snapper James Winchester, Michael, died in a tragic workplace shooting Nov. 15.
Reid was among coaches and players expressing concern the recent gun violence.
“It’s a tragic deal,” Reid said. “This world is a bit crazy right now. Just a bit crazy. Hopefully we can stop the nonsense that’s going on.”
Wilson agreed with his coach, hoping that some positive can come from a seemingly senseless tragedy.
“I just wish that us as the NFL would bring light to situations like this and do what we can to kind of limit the situation that happened.”