Jaheem Knight spent a lot of time in the weight room during the offseason.
But he’s still nowhere near the strongest person in his family.
Knight has grown three inches since his sophomore year at Northeast High School, and he’s put on more than 30 pounds of muscle, but the title of strongest person in his home belongs to his mom.
“She’s everything to me,” Knight said. “She’s the strongest person I know. She’s a single parent and she takes great care of me, my brother and my sister. They’re younger, they come to every game.
“She takes great care of us. She got me on all of the football stuff I need. She does it alone, I try to help out where I can, but she does it all. She comes to every game with my aunt, my brother and my sister. I think only my aunt and my mom like watching it. I have a great family.”
Knight’s family has many reasons to cheer when they go to games. Knight leads a Northeast defense that has been straight nasty thus far.
The Vikings have pitched back-to-back shutouts, knocking off Penn Wood 32-0 on Friday night. This was a week after Northeast blanked Haverford School 36-0. And in its opener, Northeast downed Abington 34-13, but in that one, Abington jumped out to a 13-0 lead. So the Vikings have outscored their opponents 102-0 since midway through the second quarter of their opener.
The defense has been flat-out nasty.
“We have so much talent that it’s crazy,” said Knight, who starts at cornerback. “Our defensive line is very good. Our linebackers are very good. And our defensive backs are very good. We’re all very good. But what’s crazy is we all got each others’ back. When we’re out there, we’re trying to win together. We have talent, but we play as a team.”
The Vikings have been steadily on the rise for years.
They have made four straight Public League 6A championship games, winning three and advancing to the city championship game.
Knight became a starter as a sophomore, but he’s become a much better player every year. As a sophomore, he was one of the smallest players on the field, and he took some lumps as he grew, both physically and mentally as a football player.
“I went right from playing little league to varsity football,” Knight said. “It was a huge difference. The players are so much bigger and stronger. I knew I had to get bigger and stronger.”
That’s where Deion Barnes comes in.
Barnes, an assistant coach who played at Northeast, Penn State and later the New York Jets, spends a lot of time in the weight room helping the players get stronger. Knight took full advantage of that.
“He works us hard, but that’s why we are so much stronger,” said Knight, who lives in North Philly. “He is always pushing us to get better. We spend a lot of time with him, during the season and the offseason. He’s helped us get a lot stronger.”
Knight is a quality football player because of his physical gifts, but he’s also very smart. A lot of that is because he spends a lot of time working with his coaches to get better. One of the coaches who has helped him a lot is head coach Phil Gormley.
“Coach Gormley is my guy,” Knight said. “He doesn’t just help me in football, he’s helped me a lot with school. He’s always trying to help us. He’s got our backs. We are a better team because he cares so much. He’s always out to help us.”
Knight cares about football, but he cares more about what he does in the classroom.
He boasts a 3.0 grade point average in top classes at the school, and he spends a lot of time making sure that number remains high.
And he’s not the only one worried about that number.
“I am a pretty smart guy, so I don’t have to spend a lot of time on school, but I do keep up with it because I have to get all A’s and B’s,” Knight said. “My mom takes it very seriously, too. She tells me all the time to make sure I do well in school. But I know I have to do well. If I didn’t, I’m not going to play football.”
Next year, he hopes football can help him get into a school.
He’s had some communication with colleges, but he’s still mulling offers while looking for more. He’s not set on a major, although he does like business management as an option. He hopes he’s able to have a future in football.
“I want to play football as long as I can,” Knight said. “I definitely want to play next year. I want to play in school. I want to get an education and I hope football can help me with that. If I keep working, I know I can play at the next level.”
He also knows the Vikings can keep winning.
After all, 3-0 is a perfect start, but the good times haven’t even started yet.
“I think we got the best defense in the state and the best team in the state,” Knight said. “There’s nobody we can’t beat. We’re playing the best teams out there and we’re beating them. We can beat anyone in front of us. We just have to be disciplined and play smart. We do that, nobody can beat us.”