TAMPA, Fla. — Erriyon Knighton never expected to be a pro on the track and field circuit.
“I always thought I would be in the NFL," he says. "'Cause that’s what I played a lot growing up – football.”
He certainly has the speed for it.
Knighton was a 4-star wide receiver recruit, with official offers from Florida, Florida State, Illinois, Iowa State, Tennessee and Toledo. He says Alabama also showed interest.
But, the 17-year-old sprint phenom is choosing the track over the gridiron, lacing 'em up on a professional contract with Adidas.
“We weighed out the pros and the cons," his coach Jonathan Terry says. "I told him, 'Listen. This is your career, this is your life. Let’s take a look at the upside, then let's look at the downside. I truly believe that track and field is your God-given talent.'”
It's an easy choice if you're beating records set by Usain Bolt.
Last week at the American Track League meet in Jacksonville, Knighton ran a 20.11 in the 200-meter race, beating Bolt's U18 record of 20.13, which had stood for 18 years.
“It was definitely a goal, but I wasn’t really thinking about it during the race," he says. "I just got out there and ran to see what I can do to my full ability. It was definitely a great opportunity to be out there with some of the world-class athletes and do what I did versus them.”
Not only did Knighton break Bolt’s record, he also beat Olympic 100M favorite Trayvon Bromell, who placed second with a score of 20.20.
"At first, I was just tired," Knighton says. "I was super tired. I just needed some water… after I let it sink in for a little bit, all the people talking about it, I felt pretty good that I just beat Usain Bolt’s record."
Next up for the rising Hillsborough High senior is the Olympic Trials in Oregon on June 18. The top three finishers earn a spot on Team USA, and fourth place makes the team as an alternate.
For Knighton, part of the motivation to go pro was the chance to see the world. He says since signing his contract, he's been able to race in New York and Boston, and it could take him world-wide.
“I’d be excited to see everywhere I can," Knighton says. "If I end up making the (Olympic) team, I’ll be grateful to see Tokyo. Go to U20s... I’ll be grateful to see Chile.”
Terry, who's been coaching Knighton for three years, says he knew the sprinter was a unique talent when he watched him at the 2019 Junior Olympics.
“The sky’s the limit," Terry says. "I also told him that we haven’t even touched the surface yet of his ability.”
The surface – if there is one – is even more records.
Knighton's goals now are to beat the U18 100M record, held by rookie Cleveland Browns wide receiver Anthony Schwartz, and to beat the U20 200M record of 19.93, held by Bolt.
“We have to be able to break down every race and be able to change and fix all those mechanical issues to make sure we put together an amazing, perfect race and make sure that we execute it," Terry says. "I believe that he can do it, and we’re going for that record."
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