Highly rated Canadian OL prospect David Knevel bittersweet leaving college for the pros

It’s a bittersweet time for David Knevel.

This week, the towering six-foot-nine, 315-pound offensive lineman will leave Lincoln, Neb., his home away from home the last five years. But the 23-year-old Brantford, Ont., native departs the University of Nebraska buoyed by the excitement of a budding pro football career.

Knevel has been projected as a fourth- or fifth-round selection in this week’s NFL draft, which begins Thursday in Arlington, Texas. He’s also a highly regarded prospect for next month’s CFL draft.

“I’m surprised at how tough it’s going to be to leave,” Knevel said via telephone Monday. “Lincoln has been my home and if everything works out I’d like to come back in the off-season and train but I don’t know what the future holds . . . I’m just kind of thinking, ‘Wow, I might not really be back here for a while,’ and that’s a little sad.

“But looking at the big picture, I don’t know where I’m going and there’s a lot of unknown but it’s still exciting.”

Knevel started 13 of the 31 games he played at Nebraska after redshirting in 2013. He appeared in a career-high 10 games in 2016 and started the ’17 season opener before missing three contests due to injury.

He played in seven of Nebraska’s final eight games, starting the last two.

Knevel has spent his off-season training but did participate in Nebraska’s pro day March 14 before 27 NFL teams and three from the CFL. He later had an individual workout with the Houston Texans.

Earlier this month, Knevel was ranked as the No. 5 prospect for the CFL draft May 3 after spending most of the year at No. 1. He’s excited about having two viable pro football options.

“My mentality is to be prepared for both and whatever happens, happens,” Knevel said. “An opportunity in either league is awesome.

“Next year, I want to make sure I’m playing football. Whether I’m playing or not I want to be on a team and continue to develop as a player and having two opportunities in two different pro leagues gives you a big sense of security that could happen.”

Knevel was Nebraska’s first Canadian recruit since Montreal’s Patrick Kabongo in 1999. A defensive tackle with the Huskers, Kabongo converted to the offensive line and played 11 CFL seasons before retiring in May 2014.

Knevel has been more than just a standout football player at Nebraska, making the school’s scholar-athlete honour roll three times. He was also a 2016 Academic All-Big 10 selection and in December graduated with a history degree while minoring in political science.

Knevel lists his competitive nature, size and athleticism as his strengths and said any team drafting him will get a player who loves football.

“Playing football is fun for me . . . it’s not a painful process,” he said. “Everything I do is because I love it and it’s easy to think about football in complex ways because when I love something I do look at the bigger picture.

“When I’m out there playing I’m in my rhythm. Everything I do in my life I do from the heart and this follows that pattern.”

Knevel feels his time at Nebraska has prepared him for the pro ranks.

“I’ve developed a higher football IQ playing at Nebraska,” he said. “I’ve been taught by many good coaches and that will carry over to the pros as well.”

So too will having played before Nebraska’s diehard fans at Memorial Stadium, which has a seating capacity exceeding 85,000. The Cornhuskers have enjoyed 361 straight home sellouts.

“I’ve had really good games before many people and I’ve had a few bad games before many people,” Knevel said. “You learn how to forget about the outside stuff and still develop and grow as a player.

“At the end of the day, being able to deal with the good and bad while continuing to play makes you better as a player I believe.”

The off-season for draft-eligible prospects is an annual grind. There are seemingly endless workouts and young players are forced to change their training to perform well in drills before pro personnel.

There’s also never knowing when a team will call for a private workout or interview. Football players are creatures of habit yet leading up to the draft they must deal with the uncertainty regarding where their futures lie.

“Working out day in and day out is actually kind of fun but there’s also anxiety because you have to always be prepared and don’t really know what to expect,” Knevel said. “It’s a long process because you never know what’s going to happen and there are big dates that seem far away that come fast.

“I’m happy it’s over but it was fun doing it. I don’t try to think about it (draft) too much. My whole thing is be prepared for anything.”