To truly appreciate the grit and do-what-ever-it-takes determination Jack Knust brought to Grain Valley soccer, consider what he did one night on the football field.
Knust was lining up a 32-yard field goal attempt during Grain Valley’s Class 4 District 7 championship game against Harrisonville when a bad snap forced Gavin Oyler, his holder, to scramble and throw the ball. Riley Brown snagged Oyler’s pass in the end zone as the first half ended, providing critical points in the Eagles’ 32-21 victory.
That probably wouldn’t have happened if Knust hadn’t leveled a Harrisonville lineman with a punishing block.
“You could hear the pop,” Grain Valley football coach David Allie said. “He popped the kid and allowed our holder to get the ball, scramble and throw a touchdown. He was a big part of that victory.”
From the time he was a freshman, when Grain Valley last went to the Class 3 state soccer final four, to his senior season, when the Eagles came achingly close to going again, Knust has been a big part of the Eagles’ success. It’s also the reason why he’s The Examiner’s 2019 Boys Soccer Player of the Year.
Knust, a midfielder, finished the season with a team-leading 30 goals, just one shy of the school record, and 11 assists. That’s a lot of goals for a midfielder and a big jump from the 14 he scored as a junior.
“I didn't have any expectations at the beginning of the year for myself,” Knust said. “I just knew that the team was going to be really good and I was going to do everything I could to make it happen.”
That attitude didn’t surprise Grain Valley coach Ty Nichol, who knew Knust was special from the time he was a freshman. But even he didn’t expect Knust to put that many balls in the net. An attacking midfielder like Knust usually is the guy setting up the forwards with assists. Nichol saw a bigger role for Knust, and he wanted Knust to know it was OK to score.
“It took a lot of convincing him to be selfish,” Nichol said. “You can take a player on on the dribble, beat him and go score yourself. It just took a lot of constant convincing of him that it's OK to take over games sometimes. There are times to be unselfish and there are times to be the player you can be and go score.”
Knust took that advice to heart as Grain Valley rolled through its 15-5-3 season. He also took it upon himself to be a leader on the Eagles’ relatively young squad, and Nichol said he amply filled that role in his soft-spoken way.
“He's not a real loud personality; he's a workhorse who's just a good person on and off the field,” Nichol said. “The kids and players, they watch him and they follow him. If he does the right thing, they're more likely to do the right thing. If he puts in the extra effort in practice, they're going to put in the extra effort. That told the story of our team this year.”
That story included two penalty kicks in a 2-1 victory over Kansas City East in the Class 3 District 14 final. A 1-0 win on a frigid night in Belton set up a home match against Platte County in the state quarterfinals.
Grain Valley lost that match 1-0 in overtime. Knust, who barely missed on a header in the first half, saw his final year end one win from a final four and one goal from a school record.
“Especially right after the goal, just seeing it go in and thinking this is my last game and that it was over ... it kind of crushed me,” Knust said. “I really felt like we were going to the final four. I was really confident in the team.”
While soccer has been a big part of Knust’s life since preschool, football is something new. He played some when he was younger, but he never thought about playing in high school until Eagles quarterback Cole Keller and a couple of coaches broached the idea.
“I thought it was a good opportunity because my dad and my uncles all played high school and even college football,” Knust said. “I was like, why not?”
Allie liked the idea because he knew he’d have a sure leg in Knust. He proved the coach right by making five of seven field goal attempts and converting 33 of 38 extra points. His longest field goal was a 42-yarder, and his two fourth-quarter kicks were the only points in a 6-3 win over Grandview in the Eagles’ second game of the season.
“He was a great kicker, but he was also a great kid,” Allie said. “He does a great job in the classroom; he's yes sir, no sir, a great worker. The dual-sport, same-season athlete has to spend that extra time and he would do that.”
Nichol said that made it easier for him to share his star player.
“It's tricky, but he never missed practice for us, even on Fridays when he had games he would still come to our practice first and then go to the game,” Nichol said. “We let him leave one game early because there was a football game. (The score) at halftime wasn't very close so we let him jet and he made it to the football game just in time.”
But it’s soccer that’s in Knust’s future, and right now he’s considering offers from Truman State and Rockhurst University. Wherever he winds up, Nichol is certain Knust will work hard and find success.
The hardest part for Nichol will be replacing him.
“We've got good players obviously that will be hanging around with us next year,” Nichol said. ”But you don't replace a player like that overnight, that's for sure.”