AMERICAN FORK — From 1967 to 2010, Davis Knight has been a part of the American Fork High School football coaching staff. But some of the messages he taught are now drawing attention nationally.
"There are many similarities between what I learned from Coach Knight and we are doing now at BYU," Cougar head football coach and former Caveman Bronco Mendenhall told an audience of friends and family who gathered at American Fork High School Wednesday night to honor the long time coach, who is retiring after 42 years.
"It's great to be able to share them on a visible stage," Mendenhall said. "He developed the philosophies and principles that continue to work at any level. My life has been changed by what I learned under Coach Knight and I appreciate his influence."
Hearing such an endorsement from the head of the BYU football program was a special moment for Knight, who has known Mendenhall since the Cougar coach was in elementary school.
"You could've handed me a big check and I wouldn't have been as happy as hearing him say that," Knight said. "To see that polished young man with that command and presence doing what he is doing, it validates the things we've tried to do as coaches. It gives a feeling of belonging to see other people appreciate the things you've done. It's a great feeling."
Mendenhall is certainly not the only one who has felt the influence of Knight, who has been the head coach for the Cavemen since 1981.
Hundreds turned out to extend their best wishes, including more than 100 former players.
"You don't realize all that has taken place over the years," Knight said. "Seeing all of those faces brings back memories of ball games and camps and other events. It's a little overwhelming. Thank heavens it wasn't a funeral."
American Fork High principal Carolyn Merrill couldn't have been more pleased with the job Knight has done over the years and what he has brought to the school.
"It's emotional for us to go through this," she said. "He's taught so many young men who taken those lessons into their lives. There are thousands out there like Bronco Mendenhall who he had a hand in making feel important. We're going to miss him."
For the thousands of parents who have placed their kids in Knight's capable hands, being there for this event was a special opportunity to thank the long-time coach for his efforts.
"I'm very thankful that my kids had someone like that to spend extra time with in their lives," said former professional baseball star Dale Murphy, who has had two boys play at American Fork. "He validates what we try to teach them at home. The men and women who coach have a great opportunity to make a difference because of the time of life the kids are in and Coach Knight understood that."
While Knight is finally having the opportunity to step away from football, he still plans on keeping busy.
"Life has been all about getting ready for next season for so long," Knight said. "But now my wife and I will have the chance to do things, and I have seven children and 23 grandchildren that have already started inviting me to go to ball games or go hunting or fishing." His family will finally have the opportunity to spend more time with a man who meant so much to kids throughout northern Utah County for so long.
"I have mixed emotions tonight," Mendenhall told the crowd. "I'm sad that there are kids that won't get to play for coach Knight, but I'm happy that I was able to one of the ones who did."