Sooners running back forecast better with ‘Weatherman J’
Why OU running back Knowles already knows how to perform under pressure
NORMAN — Lincoln Riley had his players on the practice field for a couple minutes recently when they were interrupted.
“Boom!” the OU coach recalled. “Huge lightning strike.”
So, what did the Sooners do? They turned to tailback Jaden Knowles, known on the team as “Weatherman J.”
“Everybody starts looking at him like it was his fault,” Riley said with a chuckle.
When the Sooners open their season Saturday against Tulane, even more eyes may be on Knowles. Available running backs have become scarce in Norman after Marcus Major was declared academically ineligible and Tre Bradford was gone before he ever played.
Kennedy Brooks and Eric Gray will carry the heaviest loads, but Knowles, along with fellow reserve Todd Hudson, will have to produce.
Knowles, at least, has experience performing under pressure.
“Weatherman J” is a budding TV weatherman. He is part of OU Nightly, the student news broadcast produced at the Gaylord College of Journalism. Since last spring, Knowles has done on-air weather reports at least once a week.
Watch one of his forecasts, and you'll see someone who looks like he could be working at a local TV station in just about any size market.
“As we take a look at the future radar,” he said during his weather report on March 11, “you notice these light rain showers all across Oklahoma City on Thursday evening, on through Friday all day. And as we get to Saturday evening, you'll notice these severe storms will pop up.”
That forecast has been viewed nearly 90,000 times on Twitter.
Knowles seems comfortable, confident and competent.
“A common misunderstanding about meteorology is, people think it's easy,” said Shawn Riley, who mentors and coaches the meteorologists on OU Nightly. “It's not. Neither is being on TV, especially delivering the weather because it's not scripted. You have to come up with it off the top of your head.
“Jaden throws himself into it. He wants to succeed, and it shows.”
Knowles has wanted to be a TV weatherman all his life. His dad, Al, worked as a floor director at KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Fort Worth, and Jaden would tag along occasionally.
Something about the meteorologists, standing at the green screen, talking about the weather, captured Knowles' imagination.
That became his dream.
But coming out of Kennedale High School in suburban Dallas-Fort Worth, Knowles decided to chase his football dream first. He went to Southwestern Oklahoma State in Weatherford to play for the Bulldogs.
“That first year in 2018, he played for us, started some games as a true freshman,” SWOSU coach Chet Pobolish remembered. “Wasn't the ideal situation, but with some injuries and some other things that happened, he ended up being our starter at one point or another.
“He handled that transition. To his credit, he came in physically ready to go.”
In two seasons at SWOSU, Knowles rushed for 395 yards and three touchdowns.
But before his junior season, he decided to transfer, a decision that had nothing to do with football.
“He explained to me he had a passion for meteorology,” Pobolish said. “He wanted to get into meteorology.” SWOSU didn't have a program. OU did.
It has one of the best, in fact. The National Weather Center in Norman is a collaborative of federal, state and academic entities, and with some of the most advanced systems in the world, students have hands-on experiences that are rare.
Knowles wanted to be a Sooner as much for the meteorology as for the football.
“We got a chance to see his film and knew he was interested in transferring here,” Lincoln Riley said. “We liked him enough on tape that we felt like, no question, we would let him walk on and thought he could become a productive member.
“Honestly, I learned more about the meteorology after he was on the team.”
Because of the football demands on Knowles, he is not a meteorology major but rather an interdisciplinary studies major with an emphasis on meteorology.
A heavy emphasis.
“This program kicks people,” Shawn Riley said. “It's hard. It's a real science.
“In Jaden's case, he has to miss some class for football. There was no way around that. I can't speak for all of our faculty, but I know with regard to OU Nightly, we've made it abundantly clear we'll work around it.”
They're willing because Knowles is so invested.
“I would say one of the top things (about him) is probably one of the same things that somebody in athletics would say makes him a good running back — his work ethic,” Shawn Riley said.
Players and coaches on the football team back that up.
“This past spring game, Jaden had a great game,” Sooner fullback Jeremiah Hall said of Knowles' game-high 79 allpurpose yards and one rushing touchdown. “It was kind of like his breakout game.
“And that's been his track.”
Hall moved his hand like an airplane taking off.
“Winter workouts, spring workouts, summer workouts,” Hall said, “he has had that type of mentality all the way through, and for him, it's just all coming together. I'm proud of what he's accomplished so far.”
The Sooners may need Knowles to do even more this season.
Then again, they are aware of how he performs with the lights bright and the cameras on. The entire team knows about his broadcast aspirations, and while they are proud of their walk-on, they also don't miss an opportunity to razz him about it.
“He'll be like, ‘It's sunny,' then we'll go outside and it's overcast,” his fellow tailback Gray said, “then I'll be like, ‘Jaden, you don't know what you're talking about.'”
Lincoln Riley said, “You can hear the guys, like if he makes a good run, someone will say, ‘It's sunny and nice,' or if something's bad, they'll say, ‘It's cloudy and stormy.'
“So we've had fun with it.”
But at the same time, Riley and the Sooners are impressed with Knowles. Proud of him, too. He is one of their own, and he is living his dreams on and off the field.
“It's cool,” Riley said, “that kid's been able to come here and attack his passion.”
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Like her at facebook.com/ JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok, and support her work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a digital subscription today.