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New big man on campus

As Brian Knoell's body grew this summer, so did his confidence.

The 6-foot, 2{-inch and 235-pound Knoell is a lot more self-assured on the football field than the 6-foot, 195-pound version that used to play for Central High.

The extra boost of assurance translates into a bona fide bonus for the 3-3 Bears, who host Zephyrhills at 7:30 tonight.

"I don't feel like I'm getting pushed around as much," said Knoell, a senior offensive guard and defensive tackle.

Knoell has used both his newfound size and accompanying newfound strength to establish himself as more of a pusher and less of a pushover, yet he isn't relying on brawn alone.

"He's a real hard worker," said Central coach Barry Gardner, who thinks Knoell can play on the small-college level and perhaps at an NCAA Division I-AA school. "He worked extremely hard in the offseason, has shown a lot of leadership, and it's paid off for him."

"He improved tremendously over the summer with weight training," Bears defensive coordinator Steve Crognale said. "He got taller, quicker and definitely a lot stronger."

As Knoell went through his 2{-inch growth spurt, he made sure the rest of his body kept up with the pace.

"That was real important to me," he said, "because I didn't want to be skinny and tall."

So Knoell ate a lot of pasta, held a summer job that involved plenty of heavy lifting and worked out regularly with Crognale. As he grew taller, he got heavier, too.

"Every time I checked it was going up: 205, 215, 220, 225, 235," Knoell said.

The summertime surge in size prompted comments from friends and acquaintances who hadn't seen Knoell for a while, and raised eyebrows from those wondering whether the gains were natural.

"I heard a lot of, "Boy, you've gotten big,'

" he said. "Some people were like, "It's got to be steroids, drugs,' but no. I got this way from growing and working hard. I don't touch the stuff."

"When you grow 2{ inches and work on the weights like he did, then it makes it easy to understand," Gardner said. "Had he not grown in height, then it might be a real question, but the fact he grew in height, too, makes it understandable."

Gardner said Knoell would have to add about 40 pounds to be potential major-college recruit, and the Central coach thinks that's unlikely. But the summer's gains make him a prospect to continue playing at some level.

"He's a late bloomer guy, and that's going to help him an awful lot, because he still has pretty good mobility," said Gardner, who has produced two current major-college players in Auburn receiver Tyrone Goodson and Duke defensive lineman Curtiss Bunch. "He still needs to take his (college-entrance) test, but I think he can help someone."

For now, Knoell helps the Bears.

A pulling guard on offense, he assisted in clearing the way for Marc Munford and Tellis Roundtree to rush for more than 100 yards each in Central's 13-6 upset of Citrus last Friday.

On defense, where he makes play calls despite being on the line, he came up with four solo tackles and five assists. That gave him 21 total tackles for the season, including 2{ sacks, plus fumble recoveries against both Hernando High and Springstead.

"I can never know for sure until I actually get there," Knoell said of his college aspirations, "but all I can do is hope somebody takes a chance on me."

If they do, they'll get someone both bigger and more confident.

And happy to be that way.

"I'd rather be this size than 145 (pounds) and getting my butt kicked," he said. "But, really, I don't judge myself on how big I am, because how big you are doesn't determine how you play. Its helps, but how you play really comes from the heart."