He was just a receiver for the football team. But when his coach asked him to join track in his freshman year, he committed.
He saw it as training to be a quicker receiver, to be able sprint faster than the defense and to take off as soon as the football touched his hands. To score more touchdowns.
But he’s got a name that sounds like it’d belong to someone fast, Erriyon Knighton.
Then, there he was, a year later, at the AAU Junior Olympics in Satellight Beach. It was August, and sweltering. He remembers hearing people cheering, and that it helped.
He knelt on the track. The gun went off. He tore away from the rest immediately, a blue sweat band around his head, long blue spandex shorts and tank top to match.
20.33 seconds is a short amount of time to change somebody’s life. With that time for the 200 meter dash, he set a new national record at the Amateur Athletic Union, and became the US no.1 mark.
He says, though, not much has changed for him personally, except that he gets more respect.
And, with his recent signing with Adidas, he has more money than he’s ever had, most of which goes into the bank. Some goes to his phone bill and some to his mom.
As for his own mentality, it’s pretty much the same with an increased obligation to work hard.
“I’m just being,” he said. “Chilling, like I’m a normal person.”
The first person to see his potential was Coach Joseph Sipp, the head track coach and a football coach. Knighton didn’t notice he was fast until that Junior Olympics race. Sipp says he saw the speed as soon Knighton joined the football team.
Knighton’s mother wasn’t surprised either. According to her, he was always running, even as a toddler. If she asked him to put his toys away, he would do it running.
Knighton started playing football when he was seven. His dad played basketball, but Knighton knew that wasn’t for him.
When Sipp asked Knighton to join the track team, Knighton thought his coach just wanted him to be a faster receiver. Knighton noticed that the workouts for track were much harder than football. There were strength workouts in the weight room and conditioning on the track.
“I was a little fast,” he said, “but I got faster.”
Sipp remembers Knighton’s first track meet. He raced the 100 meter dash at Wharton High. Sipp said Knighton wasn’t expecting much of himself. But when he took off from the line, he was in first, and he was surprised. The shock brought some awkwardness in his hips and he ended up letting the guy behind him beat him, so he placed second.
While at Hillsborough, Sipp has watched and coached several athletes who eventually became professional, or who were given full track scholarships.
“I knew [Knighton] was right up there with them,” he said.
After his freshman year, Knighton joined a summer track team.
“I wanted to do track all year long,’’ he said.
Over the quarantine summer, the summer Knighton made the AAU record, Knighton trained with Coach Sipp and a coach from AAU. He said he didn’t see track in his future until after the Junior Olympics, and his motivation for working so hard before that was pure pride.
“I wanted to be better than everyone else,” he said.
That goal was accomplished on that fateful weekend in August. He was just a fraction of a second off Usain Bolt’s world record in the 200. The next day he ran the 100 in 10.29 seconds: a new U.S best time.
“I was just running,” he said. “It wasn’t hurting me, I just kept running.”
It wasn’t long after that Knighton got a call from Adidas. They told him they saw a lot of potential.
“I was a little surprised, but not really. But I was though, but not really,” he said. “I don’t really show emotions toward stuff like that.”
It took a month to decide. Knighton thought about the possibility of being recruited for college track that would be taken away with the Adidas contract. In the end, he had help from former Hillsborough football and track star Jeremiah Green in making the decision to go ahead and sign.
As a professional athlete, signed by Adidas, Knighton gets paid six-figures to wear Adidas merchandise and sprint. They send him gift cards in the mail so he can order Adidas gear online or in the store. At school, he’s decked in everything Adidas.
Knighton continues to show up to school. He considers himself a good student; he gets all his work done. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t goof around in class though.
He’s got goals outside of running. He’s not allowed to run for a college track team, but that’s not going to stop him from going to university, especially since it will be paid for by Adidas. He thinks he’d like to study medicine, because he has family members that could help him out, like his mom, a nurse.
In his junior year now, Knighton practices with a personal coach four days a week. He hasn’t run a meet since the Junior Olympics, but he has more coming up in April. Due to the Adidas contract, Knighton can’t run for Hillsborough anymore. He misses it though.
During his personal training, Knighton practices wherever he has permission. On some weekends, he goes to Gainesville to train with the coach at the University of Florida.
His training involves a lot of leg workouts, like cleans and squats. He likes the weight training, but it hurts.
“If you want to get better, you have to enjoy the training part too, as much as you like running,” he said. Knighton doesn’t love running, but he likes it.
He still has a lot of self-motivation. He thinks it would be much harder for him to keep working if he didn’t. He says there are a lot of people he doesn’t know that hate on him out of jealousy. “Some people don’t know what’s going on — they think I dropped out of high school, but I be here everyday,” he said. “They’re looking from the outside in. At the end of the day, they really just help me. I feed off of stuff like that.”
Aside from his professional running career, Knighton lives a relatively normal teenage life. Switching back and forth from his parent’s houses, visiting grandparents and cousins on the weekends, going bowling with his mom, and dreaming, not too unrealistically, of buying a Dodge Charger as his first car.