The fluid running style only heightens the anticipation among those who broach the subject. A running back who can turn a game around? A guy who is already zig-zagging through coverage teams on punt returns? The fans want Reggie again. They’re not going to get him. McKnight will introduce himself at the appropriate time, and all the folks who are breathlessly waiting for the next gamebreaker will likely have more breathtaking moments. But they will be his own, not some apparition from a bygone era. How do we know this? In early August, one assistant coach was asked for an honest assessment of the 19-year-old prodigy. “Ridiculous,” came the answer. “There’s no secret why we wanted Joe McKnight so badly,” offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian said. “We’ve seen what a guy who was similar to him was able to accomplish.” Now, is it up to McKnight to live up to the expectations built by the 2005 Heisman Trophy winner? Can a kid who has already been the primary subject of a long profile in Sports Illustrated from his high school days be the shining star on a team seemingly overflowing with talent? “I really haven’t thought about that,” McKnight said. “I just don’t let things get to me. I stay away from it.” The excerpt in SI was from Hurricane Season, a book documenting John Curtis Christian School’s football season when life was interrupted by Katrina two summers ago. It not only detailed the plight of Louisiana and one football team, but also McKnight’s home life. Or lack thereof. For accuracy’s sake, McKnight was asked about the depiction. “I just heard about it,” he said, “but I never read it.” At every turn, McKnight flashes reminders of Bush. And then comes the next turn, in which McKnight and those shepherding him in his career push aside any comparisons. “I just laugh,” McKnight said. “It feels good to be compared to him, but I’m not there yet. He’s on a way different level than me.” Still, there’s little doubt that McKnight is the rising tide that raises all ships. His last two seasons in high school resulted in state championships for the Patriots. “I think Joe grew up in our environment where he knows the importance of team, and knows the importance of how he fits into that scheme,” said his high school coach, J.T. Curtis, in a phone interview from River Ridge. “He is not a person with a huge ego, not an `I’ guy, and that is going to serve him well in college. Just give him the opportunity to compete and he will not worry about his feelings being hurt. “He’s not Mr. Superstar.” Long before camp opened, the USC legend surrounding McKnight began to grow. Coach Pete Carroll watched only a snippet or two of videotape before he was convinced of McKnight’s talent. When McKnight arrived, he was prepared, unlike many his age entering the college game. He wanted not only to get on the field, but he wanted to grasp the mental aspects. And that served him well during his period of inactivity. A knee injury two weeks before the season opener could have been a severe setback for the average freshman. McKnight’s sprained knee simply meant more time studying tape. “He’s a sharp kid and he takes his football seriously,” running backs coach Todd McNair said. “He has a good approach at a young age.” McKnight has shown a knack for adapting. “Nah, I’m not bummed out, and I think I need to show a little more,” McKnight said. “But the coaches are caring for me and what my best interests are. I think I’ve done OK.” Yeah, just OK. During the first week of camp, Carroll already had his assessment. “His ability is jumping out,” Carroll said at the time. “He’s doing something every day, like we always talk about. We look for guys with spark every day and after a while you just know those guys are the right guys.” There are hints that Saturday against a wounded Stanford squad could be the moment. But whenever McKnight’s talent surfaces, then comes the tricky part. Everyone involved in the program understands that if/when McKnight does become more than a contributor, the pressure of being a marked man will mount. McKnight appears to be equipped for it with a quiet resolve, an ability to remain on an internal track that outsiders have no chance of seeing. “He’s not real needy. He goes about his business,” McNair said. “I don’t think he’s a real serious homesick projection guy. … He’s similar to Reggie in that way. Reggie kind of stayed to himself a little bit.” Which would be fine for USC. And the final question: What is it about Joe McKnight we haven’t yet learned? He shakes his head slowly and a tiny smile emerges. “People are going to have to find out for themselves,” he says. “I really don’t know either.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! COLLEGE FOOTBALL: The Trojans’ freshman is compared to Reggie Bush. By Phil Collin STAFF WRITER Is it showtime yet? AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREChargers go winless in AFC West with season-ending loss in Kansas CityUSC can’t wait for the unveiling. The Trojans have talked and talked, but so far, it’s only been baby steps for Joe McKnight. Soon, perhaps Saturday, we’ll see McKnight walk the walk. And what a dazzling stroll it promises to be. It seems that all anyone knows to this point is that almost every time McKnight’s name pops up, it’s accompanied by two words: Reggie Bush. A soft-spoken kid from River Ridge, La., the 6-foot, 180-pound McKnight possesses flat-out speed plus moves that might break an opponent’s ankle. Hmm, we’ve seen that act before. McKnight has only offered glimpses of his act so far, but there was a familiar reverse-field run and a punt return that was nearly broken for a touchdown against Washington State.