Southern Nash's Bell, Knight nearing the end of a memorable rushing tandem
BY SAMUEL EVERS
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
BAILEY —- While one would rather run right through a defender than make him miss, and the other would rather bounce to the outside and avoid the defense altogether, the results have been the same.
While one would rather hang low-key, hands on his hip at practice, and the other would rather jostle with teammates between reps and talk a mile-a-minute, the tandem has fit together fine.
Between Kendrick Bell, the 5-foot-8 bruiser, and Zonovan “Bam” Knight, the 6-foot speedster, as the two-headed running attack for Southern Nash football, the means might be a contrast, but the ends have meant the same two things when they take the field together: a whole lot of yards and touchdowns.
Combined, Bell and Knight have racked up more than 3,000 yards (1,712 for Knight, 1,350 for Bell) and 48 touchdowns (25 for Bell, 23 for Knight) in 2017, while starring as the offensive catalysts for the Firebirds, who have a spot in the third round of the 3-A playoffs for the first time since 2009.
The third-ranked Firebirds will travel to No. 2 Havelock at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
“They’re both something,” said Hunter Perry, who's played with Bell the last four years and Knight the last three. “Bam is the best I’ve ever seen in person. His balance is incredible. You’ll see him get hit and he’ll just land on his feet at the same speed.”
As for Bell?
“He’s just mean, he’s a dog. He’s this tall,” Perry continued, motioning his hands about five feet from the ground. “But he’ll run at you like he’s seven feet. He doesn’t care. He fights for every yard.”
Bell, with an ear-to-ear smile, and Knight, with a more reserved grin, knew of each other in middle school but didn’t get to be friends until Knight came to Southern Nash as a freshman. Before Knight was on varsity, he watched Bell as a sophomore, he said, and admired his strength as a runner. Since they’ve shared the same field, the friendship has come with one helping the other find the end zone.
Last year, with Knight finally on equal ground as a varsity member, they took off, each reaching the 1,000-yard plateau with a symmetrical 18 touchdowns each.
“Had to be last year,” Knight said. “Last year, we realized we had something special, could change the game on offense.”
As far as rushing tandems in recent Firebirds history, Brian Foster, who has been an assistant or head coach at Southern Nash for three decades, has likened the current group to Terron Huffman, who went to UNC-Pembroke, and Tracy Coppedge, an Elon player from the early-2010s, who are No. 1 and No. 2 in Firebirds rushing program history.
There is one difference that distinguishes Knight and Bell.
“They do remind me a lot of Terron and Tracy. Tracy was more the big-play threat, Terron was more about getting the little yards, just tough, always going forward,” Foster said. “But these guys now are just bigger. Kendrick’s bigger, bigger than he looks, he’s rocked up. Bam’s bigger than any of them.”
Knight, with his combination of height, speed and a 3.2 GPA, already has NCAA Division I offers as a junior from several schools, including Duke, Old Dominion and UNC-Charlotte. Once he gets his 40-yard dash, Foster said, from 4.6 to down around 4.4, more offers will begin to pile up.
Bell’s case as a senior is a little more complicated, with interest from some NCAA Division II schools as well as a few FCS teams, but no offers yet, Foster said, noting the GPA -- a 3.7 -- as something that will help.
The coach said with confidence that Bell would find a home somewhere next season, lauding both his powerful running style and his personality.
“The way he’s carried himself as far as the classroom, he doesn’t have to say a word. On the GPA board in the weight room, when people see he’s got a 3.7, that speaks volumes,” the coach said. “He just likes being here, he has a good time. He’s just fun, my kids like him, the kids here like him. He’s just fun to be around.”
Bell, who said he sees each remaining week as a chance to audition his game, has helped make a breeze of each of the Firebirds’ first two playoff opponents, rushing for five touchdowns last week against Eastern Alamance and two the week before against Fayetteville Westover, both wins by at least 42 points.
With his and Knight’s time as a duo, and with his high school career in its final stages, there isn’t much on his mind besides football, at least when he’s on the practice and game fields.
“I’m more the joker during the week,” said Bell, smiling. “I just know, when Friday comes, I’m ready to play, ready to get as far as possible. We can enjoy a win on Friday, but next Monday, we’ve got to get back to work. Make the last few games count.”
Wherever they end up next year and the year after, Hunter Perry said, the calming presence in Knight and the loose attitude in Bell will be hard to replace.
“I’m going to miss them a lot,” Perry said. “I’ll go wherever to watch them play, they’re going to be special.”