Kent St. DB will appeal for immediate eligibility

Kent State defensive back Qwuantrezz Knight will appeal the NCAA's denial of his waiver request for immediate eligibility, which he says is based on depression he developed while playing at Maryland.

Knight, a junior from Quincy, Florida, announced his transfer from Maryland on Nov. 5, six days after the school fired coach DJ Durkin, who had briefly been reinstated from administrative leave after two investigations into the football program. Knight transferred to Kent State and in May sought an immediate eligibility waiver, citing "depression symptoms due to the environment he experienced on the University of Maryland's football team," Kent State associate director for compliance Stephanie Rosinski wrote to the NCAA in a letter Knight provided to ESPN.

The NCAA's committee on legislative relief denied Knight's request June 4, writing that Knight "did not provide objective documentation that supports the assertion that [he] was the victim of egregious behavior" at Maryland. He has 30 days to appeal the denial.

In his personal statement included in the waiver request to the NCAA, Knight writes that playing at Maryland "really damaged me" and "made me feel less of a man." He said he often cried himself to sleep and once fell into "a deep state of depression" that lasted at least six weeks. Although he considered leaving Maryland in 2017, he decided to stay and "just hope things got better," he told ESPN.

Knight played in 26 games at Maryland, including four last season before he transferred.

"I did not ask to be put in the mentally and physically threatening situation that I was put in at Maryland," Knight writes in the statement, which he provided to ESPN. "Due to circumstances out of my control, I literally feared for my life and the lives of my teammates every day! I transferred because I could no longer be part of that program. It was harmful to my mental health."

Knight's statement cites two incidents from Maryland's weight room, one in which a 45-pound plate allegedly was thrown at a teammate who wasn't performing a workout correctly, and another in which a teammate allegedly was berated and forced to eat junk food for not making the weight required by the staff. Rosinski writes in her letter than both incidents involved former Maryland strength and conditioning coach Rick Court in 2016. Court and Maryland parted ways in August, days after an ESPN report detailed allegations of abuse within the program, several of which allegedly involved Court.

A university-commissioned investigation into the program found that Court "engaged in abusive conduct" while at Maryland. Rosinski writes that while the weight room incidents didn't directly involve Knight, the impact on his mental health "should not be minimized." Knight doesn't recall speaking with the investigative committee about his experience at Maryland but included the report in his waiver request.

"They [the NCAA] know what happened there, but they need more evidence as to things that happened to me," Knight told ESPN. "It wasn't like we were recording it while it was happening. Everything that was going on there, from the coaching culture and everything, you don't really need evidence from that. Everything that you guys read, that was true. What more evidence do you need?

"I'm a kid that was actually there and went through it and witnessed everything. ... I was definitely affected by it."

In his personal statement, Knight also cites the May 29, 2018, workout during which teammate Jordan McNair fell ill with heatstroke. McNair died June 13, 2018. Knight writes that the incident scarred him and others.

"The players knew what was going on there was wrong, but we were too afraid to speak out because we were scared of what the coaches would do to us," Knight writes, noting a trend also found by one investigation into the program. "That's why so many of the incidents that happened there didn't come out until after Jordan's death."

Knight said he contacted Michelle Garvin, Maryland's director of clinical and sports psychology, to discuss his mental health. Garvin confirmed in a letter included in Knight's waiver request that they had several informal conversations between April and November of 2018, and scheduled appointments on four occasions but never met. Knight told ESPN he worried the coaching staff would find out.

"While we never formally met, I believe this was a sign of his readiness to engage in therapy, rather than his need for support," Garvin writes. "Even though we did not formally meet, he continued to reach out informally and check in throughout the season. Since we did not establish a therapist/client relationship, I cannot provide diagnostic information, however, he did report low mood and symptoms of depression."

Maryland did not block Knight's decision to transfer and supports his waiver request for immediate eligibility at Kent State. But the university "fundamentally disagrees with many of the assertions" made by both Knight and Kent State, according to a letter from Kristi Giddings, Maryland's associate athletic director for compliance.

"Student-athlete health, safety and well-being is, and always will be, the highest priority within the University of Maryland athletics department," Giddings writes. "Moreover, Maryland stands by its assertion that Qwauntrezz's [sic] health and well-being were never in question during his enrollment here."

Asked to comment on the denial of Knight's waiver request, the NCAA referred ESPN to the guidelines used by the committee on legislative relief. The guidelines show that immediate eligibility may be granted when an applicant provides "objective, documented egregious behavior" by the initial school and the initial school does not oppose the waiver request. When egregious behavior cannot be documented, "staff should review on a case-by-case basis."

An NCAA spokesperson said in an appeal scenario, the committee "has the ability to consider any factor it chooses" in rendering a final decision, which ends the process.

Knight would not be the first former Maryland player to receive immediate eligibility elsewhere. Nihym Anderson, an incoming freshman linebacker, transferred from Maryland to Rutgers in August and appeared in four games for the Scarlet Knights last season.

Knight said he plans to begin therapy at Kent State. He hopes the NCAA allows him to play this fall.

"They know the story, just like I know the story, so I feel like, 'Why shouldn't you just want this kid to get a new start and be able to play?'" he said. "That's what I'm hoping they do. I'm hoping that they actually think about it and take another look at the case, because it definitely needs another look."