Nov. 2, 2011
By Bruce Madej
For a small town and high school like Riverview, there are a number of outstanding athletes that have been integral parts of Super Bowl and NCAA football championship teams.
Former Michigan walk-on Dave Knight (1986-89) also was from Riverview and he too was a pretty good athlete. A quarterback in high school, Knight was recruited by a few small schools, but when Lloyd Carr (another Riverview quarterback) offered him an opportunity to walk on at Michigan in 1986, he jumped at the chance.
Fast forward 24 years to 2010 and Knight once again jumped at the chance to be at the University of Michigan. This time, he would be the champion, not to win a football game, but instead to help someone he loved continue to play the most important game -- the game of life.
Dave Knight became an organ donor, giving one his kidneys to his father Tom.
"If it wasn't for him," Tom said at a recent Wolverine football practice, "I wouldn't be here today."
When Dave talks about the process, he makes the operation and the decision sound like no big thing.
When Tom was diagnosed, he was told if he didn't receive a kidney donation, dialysis would be the only way he could survive day to day with stage four kidney failure. And dialysis was not an option for Tom.
Dave wanted to donate the kidney right from the start, but Tom had other feelings. Dave's older brother, Tom Jr., was not able to donate and Tom felt the decision to donate was too much pressure to place on his other son.
Only Dave's Aunt, Liz, from Louisiana was found to be a match from the family members but upon further examination, U-M doctors ruled her out as a donor. That is when Dave stepped in and said he would do it.
"My family has a history with diabetes and that is a concern, but I am well beyond having juvenile diabetes and I am in great shape," said Dave. "I had just run a marathon and while you have to be somewhat careful it really hasn't affected my life."
But the donation has affected his life -- in a wonderful way.
Dr. Jeffrey Punch, now the U-M Chief of the Section of Transplantation Surgery, performed the operation and today Tom Knight is living life large.
"It wasn't a decision, it was family first," said Dave. "I wouldn't do it any other way."
As A Football Player
As a football player, Dave Knight wasn't bad. After getting the nod from Carr to join the team as a walk-on quarterback, Knight had to rethink his position.
"When I got to practice I looked around and I think there were nine different quarterbacks," said Knight. "You had to be at least a fourth string quarterback to get any snaps and I didn't want to sit and watch practice."
That's when Knight went to Gary Moeller and asked him if he could change positions. Moeller agreed and Knight found himself at wide receiver coached by Cam Cameron.
"Cam taught me so many things -- how to treat people, how to get the most out of what you have," added Knight. "He always talked about the benefits of positive reward and he knew how to coach."
While Dave Knight is not an iconic football name in Michigan lore, he has truly worn the legendary uniforms of the great Wolverines -- or at least the legendary numbers.
"When I came in they gave me the number 21 and I was wearing that," said Knight. "Then one day in practice, I see Jon Falk (Michigan's equipment manager) running across the field and it looks like he's running straight at me."
Falk indeed went to Knight and told him to change his uniform for another number immediately.
"He's telling me to change fast and I asked him'Why do I need to change numbers?' "said Knight. "Jon told me I had to change numbers because they didn't want coaches to confuse me with Desmond Howard on the practice film.
"I laughed and said'I don't think there's a chance the coaches will confuse me with Desmond.'"
Knight, of course, handed Falk the jersey. The number 21 was replaced with the number 48 -- the number Gerald Ford wore when he played at U-M. That number was retired and Ford was honored in 1994 at halftime of the Michigan-Michigan State game.
Dave Knight's legacy will not be remembered by the numbers he wore as a Michigan football player. The legacy he leaves as a kidney donor truly makes him a Wolverine For Life, a U-M player that espouses the selflessness that has helped build the foundation for Michigan football.
What Dave Is doing Now
Dave is a partner at Thornton & Grooms Heating and Plumbing -- a 53 person residential service company in Farmington Hills. He is the sales manager and marketing director for the company. He and his wife Norma live in Northville, Mich., with their three children -- son Nolan (11) and daughters Elenanor (9) and Meredith (7).
Wolverines For Life
On Wednesday, Nov. 16, at Michigan Stadium, Wolverines for Life is planning U-M's biggest-ever donor drive for organs, blood and bone marrow. "Be A Hero at the Big House" is chaired by Dave Brandon, and was created by the university-wide organization Wolverines For Life.
The event will run from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. and will be a combination donor drive where participants can:
1. Donate Blood to the American Red Cross (help U-M in the annual Blood battle with Ohio State)
2. Register as a bone marrow donor through the National "Be The Match" bone marrow registry
3.Register as an organ and tissue donor through the Gift of Life/Michigan Secretary of State donor registry