Knoblach makes immediate impact in return from surgery

Every athlete wants to return from injury as quickly as possible, but Alexandria’s Nick Knoblach had a little extra motivation.

Knoblach had to watch for three weeks as a young Cardinals defense struggled to learn on the fly against some good offenses from the Central Lakes Conference. All the while, the senior cornerback who played an integral role on this team as a junior felt like he could help if he could just get back on the field.

Senior cornerback Nick Knoblach defended St. Cloud Apollo’s Noel Teigen on a jump ball along the sidelines during the Cardinals’ homecoming game on Saturday. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

Knoblach and his coaches weren’t exactly sure when that would happen after he underwent hernia surgery on August 21. Recovery time was expected to be 4-6 weeks. He pushed himself through rehab to make sure it was closer to four, and sure enough, on Saturday afternoon he lined up in the secondary and helped the Cardinals put together their best defensive game of the season in a 21-7 win over St. Cloud Apollo.

“It was four weeks exactly last Tuesday,” Knoblach said. “I felt great today. Obviously it’s still going to be a little sore, but it’s just something you got to play through and deal with.”

Knoblach didn’t waste any time making an impact in the Alexandria win. He made a great break on a ball in the second half when the Cardinals were still clinging to a one-possession lead. Knoblach read the route and came a long ways to get in front of an Apollo receiver for an interception that was one of five takeaways on the day for the Alexandria defense.

“Those are the types of things we’ve been missing that he brings back to our defense a little bit,” head coach Mike Empting said. “You look at our defensive backs. We have some juniors and seniors playing in our defensive backfield, but again, Nate Huss is really the only other player who had some experience there last year.”

Knoblach lined up with an outside receiver during Alexandria’s game against Apollo on Saturday. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

Knoblach’s experience on the back end of the defense was something the coaches knew they would miss early on. Add the athleticism and leadership abilities that he brings to the team as a captain, and it was a blow that Empting knew would be hard to overcome.

“He’s that leader,” he said. “He’s the one coming back who had a lot of experience back there. His presence showed right away in his first game back today.”

The importance of leadership on a young team is something Empting has emphasized since the beginning of camp. Knoblach provided that before the injury and then during the recovery as he worked to get back on the field to help his teammates.

“He was really motivated to get back,” Empting said. “He wanted to be out there with the guys. I’m sure it was difficult to watch the struggles that his teammates were going through this season and not being able to do anything about it. I’m sure he wanted to get back out there as quickly as he could.”