Joe McKnight had gone through a lot of career highs and lows before he landed with the Roughriders, but his head coach believed he was turning the corner – set to finally reach his full potential.
“We had every plan to have him back, and every talk I had, he certainly wanted to be back,” Jones said Friday morning from Fort Lauderdale, Florida.
But those plans are no longer. The 28-year-old running back was shot dead after a traffic dispute in a Louisiana suburb Thursday afternoon.
“I woke up this morning hoping maybe I dreamed it,” Jones said.
“It just kills me, he’s still just 28 years old, had a lot of life left, regardless whether he had football or not you know? It’s just a terrible loss.”
McKnight had not been with the Roughriders for that long, playing just three games with the club in 2016, but Jones said he had been following McKnight’s career since he was in college and through his time in the NFL.
“He was nothing but a good guy around us, worked hard, showed up every day and he had tremendous talent and even though he had tremendous talent, he worked hard at his craft. That’s what I’ll remember about him.”
The news first broke on social media and it rippled through the Roughriders organization from the players all the way to the top. President Craig Reynolds was visibly shaken by events when he spoke with the media.
“You just feel for Joe and his family, he’s got a young son so you feel for that and I feel for our teammates and our coaches and as an organization you’re just devastated,” he said.
Jones said he has been in touch with some of his players including Jeff Knox Jr. and Greg Morris, both of whom, he said, were very torn up about McKnight’s death. He put a call into the team Chaplin who has made himself available to all the players who may need him.
The team will also be making professional counseling services available to the players, coaches and staff who need it, but Reynolds admitted that the fact that everyone is so spread out now because of the offseason does make coming together and grieving as a team more challenging.
“I know some of the local players are getting together and talking about Joe and remembering Joe but players are dispersed everywhere so it’s very difficult,” Reynolds said.
“My heart goes out to them, the players are around each other more than the coaches are around the players and I know if they feel like I feel, they’ve got a hole in the heart for the family,” Jones said.
Reynolds said the Roughriders will look at ways to honour Joe McKnight next season.