Gabe Knapton might want to think about investing in Rosetta Stone.
After all, French is still the preferred language in Montreal, Quebec, and the way his football career has blossomed it appears as though Knapton might have found a home north of the border.
In 2014, Knapton settled into what could be a lasting role with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League. As a rookie defensive end, Knapton, a Skyline grad, posted 10 sacks on the season and totaled 35 tackles as the team went 9-9 and made the second round of the Grey Cup playoffs.
It was one of those breakthrough seasons that not every athlete gets to experience.
“It happened fast, for sure,” Knapton said. “I went from arena football last year (2013) to getting a shot in the CFL, and really went from trying to just get a spot on the team to becoming the starting defensive end.
“To get 10 sacks, it was a heck of a season. I had the most fun I’ve ever had playing ball this year.”
The chance to play football for a substantial amount of money took a few years for the 6-foot-3, 285-pound Mead native. In the months following his time as an All-Mountain West player at Wyoming, there were sparse opportunities to be seen by NFL scouts and some other looks given by various semi-professional leagues. In 2013, Knapton found himself playing for peanuts in the Indoor Football League with the Colorado Ice.
He still played with the same passion, however, and that got him noticed once again. He signed with Montreal in June and suited up for the Alouettes’ first game, June 28 at Calgary, recording his first tackle.
By the time he registered his first sack, in the team’s fourth game, he had become acquainted to some of the nuances of the game, and in four contests from Aug. 16 to Sept. 12 he registered eight more sacks.
“Just getting used to the game and the defensive schemes, then once I got that things just started to come naturally and I just got down to playing football again,” Knapton said. “I feel like I started making big plays, and hopefully that’s the way it’s going to be from here on out.”
He corralled one more quarterback drop in the team’s second postseason game, and after the campaign ended was recognized with Montreal’s team rookie of the year honor.
For Knapton, the cultural change was a pretty big one — more so in the aspect of playing in a big city than anything. But he said the fans love their brand of football, and he has quickly embraced Montreal and what it has to offer.
“If you’d have told me a couple years ago that I’d be living in Montreal, I’d probably laugh at you, but … it was a big change,” he said. “I’ve fallen in love with it, and the organization is great. That’s a family to me now.”
As for the idea of playing his way into the NFL, it’s still something that Knapton will continuously pursue. He’s still only 25, and several notable players have made that transition in the past. Current Miami Dolphins player Cameron Wake started his career in the CFL and is now a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive lineman.
Having gone from needing a regular job while playing with the Ice, to being able to live comfortably just playing football in one season, he knows anything can happen. But for now, Montreal seems like a nice fit.
“I always thought I was good enough to be playing at the highest level, and that’s what I’m still working at,” Knapton said. “I’m going to be working to get to the best place possible, and right now Montreal is that place.
“I feel that I can play in the NFL, but the CFL is extremely competitive and I am happy with what I’m doing here.”