Hemlock star Robert Knapik strives for success in different roles


On his way home from a football camp in Dayton, Ohio, Robert Knapik called his coach.

He didn’t want to miss Hemlock’s 7v7 camp in Midland.

“So he was at camp in Dayton the morning before he got home, and he’s calling me to confirm what time our 7v7 starts,” Hemlock coach Adam Clark said. “Seriously. He’s been at camp, he’s been working all morning. I told him we could have 7v7 without him.

“Who is showing up? Robert Knapik.

Knapik has been around for three seasons, helping the Huskies win eight straight seasons. He started the season with back-to-back 100-yard rushing games, leading Hemlock to a 1-1 record heading into Friday’s 7 p.m. clash in Tri-Valley Conference West with Millington undefeated.

“I had to be there… it’s my team,” Knapik said. “I’m not a person who can sit still and play video games. I always do stuff all year round… I train every day. Maybe on the weekends I take it slow, but it’s hard for me not to do something.

In sophomore, Knapik joined a Hemlock team centered around Brady Devereaux, but still gained 988 yards with eight touchdowns. Knapik also caught five passes for 28 yards, adding 62 tackles and three defensive interceptions.

As a junior, Knapik ran for 1,062 yards and 13 touchdowns, adding nine catches for 149 yards and one touchdown.

“You never have to ask where Bob is… he’s always there next to you,” Clark said. “Either he’s in a camp… or he’s playing another sport. He is not able to do nothing. I don’t think in my 27 years of training I’ve ever known a more dedicated player.

“You have to have natural skills to start, which he does. But he’s a guy who only works 12 months a year. He is a person who is naturally in destroyer mode in the field. No question asked. What I also appreciate is how humble he is. The success he had never happened to him. It’s not always the case.

Carrollton’s DJ Voltz edged out Hemlock’s Robert Knapik in the 100m at a track meet in Saginaw County on Tuesday, June 1, 2021 (Kaytie Boomer | MLive.com)Boomer Kaytie | MLive.com

Knapik is not just the result of hard work. He started off with some physical skills.

“He’s very fast,” said Clark. “He has the suddenness to him that no matter how hard you or I might work on it, we’re not going to have him.” We can do all the work we can, but we’re not going to move like Robert Knapik. He just has a sparkle to him. You mix up the work ethic, and it maximizes what it is.

“If you could get all of humanity to think this way, we’d be in a pretty good position. “

Despite all of this, or perhaps because of it, Clark has made some major changes to Knapik’s game this season.

He moved the 5-foot-9, 180-pound senior to the offensive tailgate catcher and defense linebacker.

“We try to maximize what’s best for Hemlock football and what’s best for Bob as a college prospect,” said Clark. “He’s not tall, so it would be advantageous for him to also show that he can catch the ball, run routes and showcase those abilities to the next level.

“We also have Espin Miller in the backfield, which makes the movement easier. Bob’s most natural cut is the running back. This is where Bob is most comfortable. But Bob is going to get the attention and seeing him split up forces the defense to expand instead of focusing on Bob in the backfield.

Hemlock v.  Ithaca

Second-year student Robert Knapik kneels on the sidelines as his team play in the dying minutes of the fourth quarter in a Hemlock-hosted soccer game against Ithaca on Friday, October 4, 2019. Rachel Ellis | MLive.com

This forced Knapik to increase his workload, both physically and mentally.

“It’s a lot more work and a lot more to learn,” Knapik said. “Overall, it’s a more complicated job. This is new to me. I run routes instead of just taking pictures in the backfield.

“It’s much more tiring. The hard part is, you never know when the ball is going to be thrown at you. As a running back I knew where to go and when to expect the ball. It seems to the receiver, the ball is always unexpected.

In a 33-8 win over Breckenridge, Knapik ran another 12 times for 107 yards and a touchdown. In a 20-13 loss to La Coruna, Knapik ran 16 times for 119 yards and a touchdown. He also made 11 tackles in defense.

“We’re sort of moving it all over the place,” Clark said. “His versatility and experience must stand out, like a Swiss army knife that helps us solve problems.

“He’s improving and he will continue to improve. When a child doesn’t think so much, he moves differently. We want to get Bob into positions where he reacts, doesn’t think. He’s pretty impressive when he’s over there reacting.

While Clark credits Knapik’s parents Jim and Shanntelle Knapik with his work ethic, they are also responsible for his 5ft 9in height. Jim Knapik is 5-8, while Shanntelle Knapik is 5-5.

“Getting things done this year will help me get more recruited,” Knapik said. “I’m not very tall and there are a lot of options for the running backs who are bigger than me. These are just new positions that I have to get used to.

“I went to six camps this summer, basically just to get more exposure. When you play for a small school, it’s hard to get noticed. Hope the camps help. Hope the changes help.

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