ARKADELPHIA, Ark. (BP)--Listen to any coach's post-game interview, and somewhere in the dialogue you'll hear about match-ups. A game's outcome will be decided on a team's ability to capitalize on advantageous match-ups that arise throughout the course of a game.
Whether it's calling a draw play to counter a blitz, bringing in a lefty to silence a rally or getting a defending point guard caught down on the blocks against your post, getting the right match-up is the key to any team's success.
In 2011, Spencer Knight was a freshman fullback for the Ouachita Tigers. Knight was no stranger to the Tiger program. Having grown up in Arkadelphia, he was already a regular fixture at home games and familiar with the coaching staff and players. Of course, when your dad is Tiger Head Coach Todd Knight, where else would a young football player spend his Saturdays?
So when Spencer learned that former Tiger Justin Waite had been diagnosed with leukemia in 2010 and was in need of a bone marrow donor, it was a no-brainer for Knight to step up and try and to do his part to help.
"In one of our team meetings in 2011, Tim Harrell came and spoke to us about a program called 'Be The Match'," Knight said. "I knew Justin and what kind of a guy he was. He was a good Christian guy; everybody loved him."
Harrell, the director of campus activities at Ouachita Baptist University, talked to the team about how the "Be The Match" program worked and how any one of the players could be a positive match for Justin. Knight had recently seen Justin on a trip to Commerce, Texas, and was surprised at how small and frail Justin had become.
"It broke my heart seeing him like that," Knight said. "So when 'Be The Match' came on campus, I went to the student center and filled out the paperwork and had my cheek swabbed."
Despite being one of several Tigers to participate, a successful match was not able to be made for Justin, who passed away in 2011. Spencer notes that after Justin's passing, his participation in the marrow-donating campaign became just a faint memory. And when he received a call in the early fall of 2013, he had all but forgotten about it.
"It was early in the season, September I think, and I get a call from 'Be The Match' saying I might be a possible donor for a 3-year-old boy in Canada," Knight said. "It was surprising because it had been two years since my cheek swab, and I honestly had forgotten about it."
Suddenly in the midst of classes, tests and papers, practices, game films and team meetings, Knight was being told he could be the right match-up for a young boy in another country. His initial reaction was indicative of his character and would surprise no one who knows him.
"My first reaction was to pray and let God know that if this was his plan and what I needed to do, I was just going to trust him to work it all out," Knight said. "Then I called my parents and let them know about it."
When asked over the phone by the "Be The Match" representative if he were still willing to participate in the program, Knight said yes.
"As soon as I heard it was a 3-year-old, I immediately agreed," Knight said. "My parents and I had a lot of questions, but I felt this was part of God's plan, so I knew I had to follow it through."
What followed was a series of physicals, blood work and tests, both in Arkadelphia and in Houston, Texas, to ensure that Knight was indeed the right match. After every test, the results were the same. Spencer was the perfect match for the young Canadian boy. All of this went on while Knight was still handling his duties as a student-athlete on and off the field.
On Jan. 2, 2014, a little over three months after receiving the phone call, Knight was admitted into a Houston hospital for a bone-marrow harvest for a boy he had never met, in a country he had never visited.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, in order to harvest bone marrow, a special needle is placed through the skin into the marrow cavity of the hipbone, where stem cells and blood are aspirated. Two or three skin punctures are made on each rear hipbone. About one to two quarts of bone marrow are collected during the harvest procedure, but individual procedures vary.
Once Spencer's harvest was complete, he was taken to a recovery room. It was that specific recovery room that validated to Spencer that he was following the right path.
"Once I came to, they moved me from the main recovery area to a private room," he said. "There were over 40 rooms, and the only one available for me was room number 25."
Knight's jersey number for the Tigers is 25. He and his dad both say without hesitation that they immediately knew his involvement was a "God thing."
The "Be The Match" program is set up in a way that donors and recipients are anonymous. The recipient of Knight's marrow only knows it came from a 20-year-old male in the United States. While he's hopeful that he will get an update on how the recipient is doing, Knight says that it's up to the child's family to decide if they have any further contact. Despite that, Knight says he has a connection to the child, wherever he may be.
"I think about him every day, and I pray for him and his family" Knight said.
In the fall of 2014, Spencer will play his final season for the Ouachita Tigers. As a fullback, he's going to be called upon to handle the dirty work so the offense can move the ball toward the end zone. He'll be lowering his shoulder into would-be tacklers, creating holes for Tiger tailbacks to burst through.
Each play's success will depend on the match-ups. Knight will be looking to exploit the match-ups he faces to move the ball down the field.
However, regardless of any successes he will achieve in 2014 on the field, his biggest success will be the result of his match-up off the field.
Kyle Parris is sports information director at Ouachita Baptist University.
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