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Knight puts out fires on and off the field

He's the player who stops streaking strikers from putting the ball in the back of the net. The player who neutralizes playmaking midfielders on the attack.

Yes, defender Kevin Knight has put out a lot of fires in nine seasons with the Richmond (Va.) Kickers.

Just call Knight "The Fireman." No, really. Call him "The Fireman."

When Knight isn't stopping runs or clearing dangerous balls out of the box, he serves as one of Richmond's bravest.

"The whole playing off the firefighter thing, nobody's brought that to light yet," Knight says with a laugh. "But I figured it was coming. I'm sure a lot of other people will, too."

Knight has been a firefighter on Richmond's north side with Quint 14 (in engine and ladder operation) since last fall. It's something he's always wanted to do. It makes sense in his family: If you are a Knight, you serve the community.

Knight's father, John, who died of liver cancer when Kevin was 12, was a Marine. His mom, Janella, is a teacher in Fairfax, Va. His brother, Scott, is a pastor in Charlottesville, Va.

Kevin Knight, 31, is more than just a fireman or soccer player. He's the first to defend a teammate who's bullied on the field. He'll push the aggressor and get in his face, doing whatever it takes.

He's the guy whom young players ask for advice, the guy who lends his truck when they move across town and helps get that awkward couch through the front door at midnight.

He's volunteered to go to war-torn northern Uganda twice in the past three years with a Christian ministry group to help children, many of them orphans. He feels guilty that, because the USL season is so hectic, he will miss spending time with his wife, Jodi, and three daughters, Ella, 5, Naomi, 3, and Abigail, 18 months.

"I couldn't think of a better guy to be around on a day-to-day basis," says Knight's longtime teammate, Richmond midfielder Mike Burke. "I think being a firefighter is right up his alley. He would fight for his country, he would help anybody in need. Kevin just lives such a good life. He's a great friend."

Although Knight always wanted to be a fireman, he didn't want to give up soccer. But what he calls a life-changing event almost three years ago changed his perspective.

Knight, his brother and their wives were driving to dinner in Fairfax, his hometown, when they were the first to arrive at the scene of an accident on Route 123. On the side of the road lay a 13-year-old boy, bloodied, unconscious and having seizures. He had been hit by a car while riding his bicycle.

Scott Knight, who had some EMT training, stabilized the boy as his body twitched on the pavement. He regained consciousness when paramedics and firefighters arrived.

"It was a very important moment in my life," Knight says. "I was just impressed with the firefighters. I was able to see and experience what those people do firsthand. I wanted to know what to do if something like that ever happened again."

Knight earned a spot in the Richmond Fire Department's recruiting class last May and left the Kickers after seven seasons. He could have stayed during training, but if he was injured, Knight would get another shot with the fire department.

"It was the right thing to do, but I still felt a sense of loss," says Knight, who played in the MLS for the MetroStars/Red Bulls in 1999 before joining Richmond. "I lost the game I love so much. I missed it."

Being away from the game irritated Knight, and he figured he could use some money to supplement his income as a firefighter. Richmond coach Leigh Cowlishaw always left the door open for a Knight return. After all, he told his former captain when he left, firefighters do have flexible schedules.

The Kickers, who won the USL Second Division title two years ago and reached the championship last season, welcomed Knight back this season.

"The USL is not usually a full-time job for a long time, so you have to allow guys to pursue other opportunities," Cowlishaw says. "It's great to have him back. Kevin plays hard and gives everything he has. You always look for players like him, players who just want to win."

Knight missed a week of preseason training in early April because he attended fire department training. But Knight's colleagues in the firehouse are switching days with him during the season so that he misses only a few workouts and games. Knight, who already has been on the scene of several car accidents and 10 fires, including two serious ones, works the always-convenient 24-hour shift (8 a.m. to 8 a.m.) two to three days a week.

Knight's unit averages six to eight calls per day, ranging from house fires, car accidents and EMT-type work. He has been on about 20 serious fire calls during his time in the department and it's not uncommon for him to arrive at a practice after a shift. "We can get three or four calls a night," Knight says. "I haven't had a night before a practice where I didn't get any sleep. But I'm sure that's coming."

Justin Rodriguez covers the USL for ESPNsoccernet. He is the soccer writer for the Times Herald-Record in Middletown, N.Y., and can be reached at jrod_showtime@yahoo.com.

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