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N.C. State's Doeren excited about Southern Nash's Knight, other young RBs

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Southern Nash's Zonovan Knight runs the ball this past season during an August game against Nash Central. At the ACC football media days in Charlotte on Wednesday, N.C. State coach Dave Doeren expressed excitement over the Wolfpack's young backfield which includes the former Firebirds standout.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, July 18, 2019

The N.C. State offense will look decidedly different this season, and coach Dave Doeren isn’t tipping his hand as to what that means for this team’s play style.

Gone is Ryan Finley, who threw for the sixth-most passing yards in the country last season while guiding the Wolfpack to a 9-4 season. Finley left for the NFL draft, as did NCSU’s most efficient receiver in Kelvin Harmon.

The offensive line will also see some changes as the group lost a trio of starters. At running back, the Wolfpack will have to find production from their younger players with the loss of senior and 2018 leading rusher Reggie Gallaspy II.

On the first of two days at the Atlantic Coast Conference football media days in Charlotte, a familiar name known in the Twin Counties popped up when Doeren was asked about his team’s backfield depth — Zonovan Knight.

The Southern Nash grad and Firebirds all-time rushing yards leader has a rare blend of speed, agility and strength, and showed glimpses of that standout talent when he turned in an electric performance during the Wolfpack’s spring game this year.

That performance, coupled with his practice performances and team needs, has the true freshman firmly in the team’s plans from Day 1.

“Our offense is built to be balanced, first of all. But at the same time I’m not going to just beat my head against the wall,” Doeren said of not forcing the pass because of last year’s success. “We had three outstanding wide receivers last year. Ryan (Finley) was one of the best throwers in the country. We took advantage of that.

“We’ll see what we end up with this year. I’m excited about Ricky Person. I’m really excited about our young backs, Zonovan Knight, Jordan Houston, Delbert Mimms, we’ve got four talented running backs. They need to get into camp and show they can hang onto the football, protect our quarterback, do all the things that coach (Des) Kitchings demands from them.”

N.C. State isn’t shy about using true freshmen. Look no further than Person, who was the second-leading rusher a season ago during his first year on campus. He returns for his sophomore season after rushing for 471 yards and two touchdowns on 112 carries.

Now, Person is expected to lead a still-young core of freshmen running backs that will include Houston, Mimms and Knight. Knight, who was the Telegram’s offensive player of the year in 2017, enrolled at N.C. State in the spring and shined during the Wolfpack’s spring game.

Knight rushed for 139 yards, including a 76-yard touchdown during that intrasquad game.

Offensive tackle Justin Witt, who was in Charlotte along with teammate and defensive back James Smith-Williams, was also excited about the crop of running backs and doesn’t expect any drop-off in production with the new group.

“... We’ve got great running backs who can step up after Reggie Gallaspy left,” Witt said. “I feel like we’re going to run the same style of offense with some of the guys coming in now.”