HUNTINGTON — The red stripe that runs down the middle of Marshall football players’ helmets is meant to make those rookies stand out. They’re a part of the team, but haven’t been judged yet to be ready for the green stripe that established members of the team wear.
So when that red stripe comes off, it’s a sign that the newbie now belongs with the Thundering Herd. Most times, it’s what that player does on the field that earns him that honor.
For wide receiver Josh Knight, the first newcomer to have his red stripe removed, it was what he did off the field. He might be a rookie, but in the do-gooder department, he pulled off a pretty veteran move.
A couple weeks back, Knight had left the cafeteria following lunch when he spied a woman struggling with several sacks of groceries. She had just come from church and, from what Knight could see, she wouldn’t be getting very far with her load.
Knight wasn’t about to let her wrestle with those packages. That’s not how his mother, Cynthia Hemphill, raised him. So he walked over and, taking a page right out of the Boy Scouts of America manual, took the bags and carried them home for her.
For 12 blocks.
“My mom always taught me to do the right thing,” Knight said. “I felt the right thing was, wherever she needed to go, to help her out to get there.”
As a 6-foot, 184-pound freshman, Knight is a spry, athletic kid. But he was walking with three big bags in each hand and some food stuffed in his backpack on a hot summer day. He might as well have been dragging a safety into the end zone.
But halfway wasn’t cutting it for Knight that day. He offered that helping hand, and he was going to see the task through.
“After I started stopping and needing a break, to sit down and just put the cans down, that’s when I really realized it was going to be a long journey,” he said. “But it wasn’t too hard for me. I might as well help people out. If they need it, I’ll help out.”
Knight got the woman’s groceries to her destination, turned around and walked the 12 blocks back to campus. He figured that was that. He wasn’t expecting a ticker-tape parade for his random act of kindness, but the warm feeling he had inside and the woman’s gratitude was a nice reward.
The beneficiary of his helping hand, however, had other ideas. She wrote a letter to Marshall Coach Doc Holliday, telling him all about Knight’s good deed. Holliday didn’t think it should be a secret, either. After an evening practice, in front of the entire team, he read the letter aloud.
“It kind of caught me off guard,” Knight said. “I wasn’t expecting to hear that. I felt kind of good just to know she appreciated everything.”
It put a smile on Holliday’s face, too, to know one of his players dropped what he was doing to help someone in need, not worrying about any prize at the end.
“He wasn’t asking for it,” Holliday said. “I had no clue until the lady sent us a letter about what he had done. He’s a young freshman who hadn’t been around here and he came in with that mentality.”
When Holliday was done reading the letter, he called Knight to the front of the group. He took the helmet from Knight’s hand and, with a quick tug, stripped that red stripe. Knight had gone green. He was a 100-percent member of the Herd.
Holliday said there are plenty of good apples in Marshall’s bunch. Their deeds often fly under the radar. So it’s nice when a player’s work away from the field gets recognized.
“It makes you feel good,” Holliday said. “A lot of times in athletics, you read about all the negatives out there. Unfortunately, some of the positives don’t get reported.”
Other newcomers have lost their red stripes since. But Knight can always remember that, in the 2013 season, he was the first, and it was a kind act that helped him earn it. Whether or not word got out of his good work doesn’t matter to Knight. If he found himself in a similar situation, he wouldn’t hesitate to help.
“You don’t even really think about it,” he said. “It’s just second nature. You just do it.”
It’s not just the Herd’s football team that should embrace Knight and his attitude of service. The Marshall and Huntington communities should do the same.