April 7, 2023

REDBLACKS’ Santos-Knox shares salient relationship with his father

picture from Hamilton Tiger-Cats

Without his father, Jovan Santos-Knox probably wouldn’t be where he is today.

A graduate of the University of Massachusets, Santos-Knox looked to get his professional career underway in the NFL. He took part in Philidelphia Eagles camp but didn’t make the cut, leaving his next steps in doubt.

His father, Byron Knox, suggested taking a look at the CFL and would do everything he could to help, but Santos-Knox wanted to do things on his own merit. A year passed, and again, Knox pushed the Canadian route, and after some quick Google searching to find tryout dates, the two jumped in the car, and started driving.

They drove to a Calgary Stampeders camp first, before attending a Winnipeg Blue Bombers and Montreal Alouettes tryout. While on the road home from the Als camp, Santos-Knox received a call, informing him the Bombers wanted to sign him.

“I remember how excited I was to hear that news, and share it with my father,” Santos-Knox said. “He sacrificed a lot for me my whole life just for me to have this opportunity. To see it come full circle was special.”

He describes his play style as something akin to what you see on the defensive side on the basketball court. He pairs the ability to play man and zone coverage, similar to basketball, as well as contorting his body to make the play. That combination, of course, is thanks to his father, who coached both basketball and gymnastics while Santos-Knox was growing up.

Those intertwined skills brought Santos-Knox success quite early in his CFL career. In his first season with the Blue Bombers, the Waterbury, Connecticut native put up impressive numbers, finishing with a pair of sacks, two interceptions, and a forced fumble, to go along with his 47 defensive tackles and 19 special teams tackles.

Santos-Knox never planned on leaving Winnipeg, according to his father, but things didn’t line up, and it began his carousel. He had stops in Edmonton and Hamilton, where he met REDBLACKS General Manager Shawn Burke, who courted him heavily in the free agency process.

“Jovan is a loyal guy,” Knox said. “He had a lot of really nice things to say about Shawn Burke, and Burke showed him a lot of love. For Jovan, it’s not always about the money, he wants to see that you care, and show that you want to win.”

Not only did Burke’s familiarity help bring Santos-Knox to Ottawa, his connection with former teammates, including Jaelon Acklin and Cariel Brooks, helped sweeten the pot.

Santos-Knox says that when he’s evaluating potential teams to join in free agency, he looks first at the quarterback position, citing their importance to winning a Grey Cup. Already good friends with Jeremiah Masoli, he didn’t need to look hard to know what he was getting into.

“He reached out to me multiple times during the legal tampering window, and he made me feel more secure in my decision,” he said. “He’s someone who lives there full time, and he’s a great advocate for the city, and it says something to me that he already feels that way after one year.”

When informed of the offer by his son, Knox knew right away that Ottawa was the perfect landing spot. He wanted to make his opinion known, while also leaving Santos-Knox the ability to make his own choice, but ultimately, it wasn’t difficult.

“We always have his best interest in mind,” Knox said. “This was an opportunity to be the point person on a team, especially after having never been a captain on other teams. He feels that Ottawa can be a new home.”

It’s a testament to how perfect of a fit Santos-Knox believes Ottawa will be, signing a two-year contract with the REDBLACKS, It’s something he has avoided whenever possible in his young professional career.

He often thinks back to the 2022 season – where the REDBLACKS struggled – but believes that the team was close to breaking through. There’s a belief that with Bob Dyce running the show, things will improve, and Ottawa can return to the top of the Canadian game.

“It’s being built from the inside out,” Santos-Knox said. “There’s something special brewing. It hasn’t been the sexiest offseason with the crazy big names, but we added a lot of good pieces to an already good roster, which should make us a very competitive team next season.”

On a couple of occasions, Santos-Knox has been close to the Grey Cup, but never has he been able to see the ring on his finger. With Ottawa, he’s poised to make the commitment required to change that and bring a championship back to the nation’s capital for the first time since 2016.

“That’s my number one motivation,” Santos-Knox said. “At this point of my career, there’s nothing that I want more. I’m playing for this ring now. I want to say that I won a Grey Cup, that’s why we play this game.”

A professional in the view of others, Santos-Knox is still a kid at heart, his father says.

“He’ll be 29 this year, and in a lot of ways, he’s still a kid,” Knox said. “He’s doing things with his little sisters, he’s always playing games at the house, and everything is a competition. Jovan is just enjoying life, and this football thing is just a passion.”

Without a special relationship, and a tryout that Santos-Knox told his father was $50, but was actually double the price, who knows where he would be today?