Coach Lamar McKnight has been on my radar for quite some time. He’s a local quarterback performance coach, a teacher, a mentor, and an athlete. I love following him on social media. He always shares words of encouragement, and spreads light and love even to people like myself who aren’t huge sports people.
His life is dedicated to motivating and inspiring youth in Jersey City. Lamar has an amazing story. He took an injury that could have ruined his football career, and he made it into an opportunity and is now helping young athletes realize their dreams. He is truly inspiring and I am honored to have had the chance to get to know him.
What’s your name?
What do you do?
I’m a quarterback specialist. Specifically quarterback.
What does that mean?
I specialize in analyzing and critiquing the quarterback position. Rather than just the basic 3-step drop, I research and get heavily into what the quarterback position ranks. i played it myself, so it was one of those things where I learned so much when I was playing and when I was done playing it, I was able to coach the position. From coaching the position, I began training the position. I became a trainer, basically giving athletes the ins and outs of the position and helping them reach their expectations.
Tell me a little bit about your sports history.
I was a basketball player and I had dreams of being a basketball player, but I was playing at Jersey City Recreation at about 11 years old and the coach at the time saw me chuck a ball about 60 yards as an eighth grader. From there, he told me I was a quarterback, nothing else. It became something I almost didn’t want to do but I’ve done it so much, it became the norm and grew to like it. I was blessed to play it at the next level. I played at Tennessee State and then transferred down to Adams State. The thing is, it brought so much positivity into my life so I decided to stick with it. It was something I truly enjoyed doing.
I started football throughout high school. Even then, I was a two-sport athlete. I stilled played basketball and football, I still had dreams of playing college basketball, but I wasn’t really noticing my gift, which was a hell of an arm. It was one of those things that was effortless. Whenever something’s effortless and you have a lot of fun with it, you can make a lot of money doing it so why not do it? I grew to like football. My mom was a basketball player and wanted us to play basketball, and my dad was a quarterback, which I found out after I played in college. I guess it just ran through the genes.
I played at Lincoln High School, and then transferred over to junior college in California. I went to Contra Costa College and lived there for about two years. I won a championship out there, and I went on to earn a full-ride D1 scholarship to Tennessee State. I went there, things didn’t work out, and I ended up in Colorado in Adams State. I had a successful year there, but I retired. Too many hits to the head, so the doctors decided to not retire me but to take me away from physical sports for two years.
Then you turned it around.
I turned it around. To a typical athlete, it would be devastating because a lot of people put all of their focus into their sport but it’s short-lived. Now it’s like, “I don’t play football, what do I do now?” I always knew that I would coach the position, it just happened to come a little bit too soon. When I did get retired from the sport in August 2015, luckily I was graduating that December with a Bachelors in Sports Management. I was able to keep my scholarship. Once I graduated, I got into coaching 5 months later and didn’t waste any time because I knew what I wanted to do. I’ve always been a student of the game, I’ve always been somebody who enjoyed the grind, not just putting in work on the field but also learning the sport and the position. It actually turned out better for me because when you play on a team, you only impact those around you. As a coach, I can impact the whole world. As a trainer, I can impact kids from 7 years old to professional leagues. I think it’s my calling because I enjoy doing it. I truly don’t see myself doing anything else for the rest of my life. I was scared getting into it because I knew a corporate job would pay more, but I followed my dreams.
How old are you?
I’m only 26.
You’re so young! You teach here at Union City High School?
Yeah, I teach Hospitality Management and Readiness Skills of College and Careers at the high school. I teach all career classes, and then on the side I train. I’m also a coach at the high school, but teaching and coaching works hand in hand here. That’s when I decided to train the position.
You’re training one on one?
I do one on one and groups. I’m also a mentor. I go to the kids and speak to them on things other than football. It’s more like a mentorship to me. I want the kids to come around and feel free.
It’s a positive influence.
It’s what my mom did, she was a full time foster parent. She loves to give back, and it’s something that was in my genes the whole time.
She must be very proud of you.
She is, she’s proud of me.
Do you have a certain approach to what you do?
I like to teach the why. There are thousands of quarterback trainers in the country, everybody basically does it the same way, but the way I teach it, I think it’s understandable. I dumb it down so the athletes can understand it because if they’re doing something and they don’t truly understand it, it’s going to be hard for them to comprehend. I try to relate it to real-life situations or get in their head so we’re speaking the same language. There are times where I’ll throw the ball myself and if my athlete can’t tell me what I did wrong on that pass, then I’m doing my job wrong. I approach it as a teacher. I don’t demand my respect, I’d rather earn it. I want my athletes to have a complete understanding of what I’m doing, even if it’s a drill they’ve never seen. I’ll run the drill myself so they can see what it looks like. If I get a new kid, I ask how their old trainer taught them the drills so I know how to move forward. It’s always a building of the relationship because, once my clients are comfortable with me, they become people who will do the things they teach you as second nature. I’m so confident with the way I train, I truly think that if you take what I teach you and at least apply it 90% of the time, you’ll be in a good situation.
How do you feel sports have made a difference in youth life?
I think it’s huge. Even if most parents don’t want to force it on their kids, I always suggest them to speak it into existence. Tell them the positives of it. All of my friends I have right now, I met through sports. It builds countless relationships, you get to travel, I went to school for free so that’s a plus. I think it teaches athletes things they don’t get taught at home on a daily basis, like discipline, timeliness, or respect. it teaches you more than just going on a field and knocking somebody out. It teaches you life value and how to approach people. On a football team, there’s about 65 – 70 kids and you get to learn different personalities. There’s a lot going on today and I think it’s because people don’t understand that everybody is not the same.
I don’t know much about football, but who do you root for?
I’m not a team guy. I have a favorite player – Cam Newton. He’s a quarterback for the Carolina Panthers.
So you grew up in Jersey City?
I grew up in the worst part of Jersey City, almost lost my life about once or twice from just hanging around the wrong people at the time. I grew up in the heart of Jersey City on Martin Luther King Drive, in Sal-Laf Court in the projects. A really tough area to come out of. I think that’s part of the reason why I allow myself to grow in aspects of my life. It’s easy for me to not do something with my life, but it’s hard for me to do something and go against the grain. When I was around, a lot of people feared that kind of living. They feared living in the hood and feared being around gangs and drugs. To me, that opened my eyes at a very early age. I can sit here and talk to somebody less fortunate on the street and talk to them like a human being. Some people see someone less fortunate on the street and go, “Oh look at that bum.” They look at them like it’s a different person. Growing up in the projects taught me to appreciate people more because I’ve learned more from those people than I learned from the higher-ups. It humbled me in a way, and I’m proud of myself now for having a positive impact on my community and being able to go back and take them out of their element. I have the ability to open somebody else’s eyes, and it gives somebody a person to look up to.
How do you feel Jersey City has changed in the last few years?
It’s changed a lot. For the most part, I think more people are getting the hint of the path to choose. I do see more people trying to go to college, working out, and wanting better for themselves because I think there’s so much talent in Jersey City. The more people who do that and engage in those activities, the better we’re off as a city. If more people can buy into being self-made and try not to fall into the hype, I think we’ll be in a way better place. There’s too much talent here. A majority of my friends have wasted a lot of their talents because they’ve allowed themselves to fall into that category. They didn’t have the resources to teach them. My purpose serves really high because not only am I helping myself, but I’m impacting everybody. I’m going around to the high schools, training kids, and showing them the way out. I think the more that we get, the better off we’ll be. We got the whole Jersey City, but where I’m from, nobody touches that area because everybody’s scared. I think a lot of people are skeptical about the inner city and forget about it. I speak highly of it and won’t let the rest of Jersey City forget where I came from.
I love that. What’s your favorite Jersey City hangout spot?
Light Rail Cafe! To hang out, it all depends. This time of year, I love to walk around the waterfront and just chill. I don’t really like to hang around too many people and I don’t surround myself with people who don’t talk the same way I do. I love Crown’s Chicken. There’s no downside about me, I’ll try anything.
Anything else you want people to know?
I just want people to be more self-driven, more motivated to fall into their own category than falling into corporate America. I’m not against corporate America, but I am against people selling themselves short. If you have a talent or a dream, go get paid for it. If you’re creative, use it. You might not have the money, but somebody with the money is going to put the money to your mind. They’ll invest in your mind.
You can find Lamar McKnight on Instagram.