Telegram's Offensive POY Knight keeps running
By PATRICK MASON
Saturday, December 23, 2017
Zonovan Knight was hanging around the main office at Southern Nash High School last year, waiting to pick up a schedule of his classes for his sophomore year.
While Knight was waiting, he decided to take a look at the school’s trophy case. He saw Southern Nash alum and current NFLer Julius Peppers’ name attached to several records, but his eyes stopped when he came across the Firebirds’ all-time leading rusher.
Tracey Coppedge ran for 4,157 yards during his football career at Southern Nash. Coppedge went on to play at Elon University after his final season in the Firebirds’ backfield in 2011. And while many other eyes have read that name, Knight decided that he wanted that to say his name by the time he leaves.
“I’m looking at the trophy case, I’m seeing Peppers, seeing the stuff he did, then I come across that rushing mark,” Knight said. “So I set a goal. I was going to do it. I wanted to make my mark.”
That day before his sophomore season began set in motion an insatiable drive that has powered Knight through two remarkable seasons of varsity football.
This past season, as a junior in his second year on varsity, Knight needed just 142 carries to rush for 1,877 yards with 28 touchdowns. Even more impressive might be his yards per carry average of 13.2, essentially gaining more than a first down with every touch.
Knight, the Telegram’s 2017 Offensive Player of the Year, now needs 1,139 yards to become the Firebirds’ all-time leading rusher, a yardage total he eclipsed in each of his two varsity seasons.
Should Knight find his way to the top, his nickname will follow. Not many people use Knight’s first name. Zonovan has been replaced by ‘Bam’ and it’s a story that goes all the way back to his childhood.
When Bam was a young boy, he would play with his toys by whacking them on everything. His mother decided to call him Bam, and the name stuck. Now, friends, his mother, his football coaches, and even the Firebirds roster knows him as Bam.
“As a baby, I used to hit a lot of my toys on things, or I’d hit them,” Knight said. “That was my way of playing with them. I’ve been Bam ever since. People at school call me that like it’s my first name.”
If opponents didn’t know the backstory, Bam would still have been a fitting name for the way he attacks defenses with his legs. And even with 3,019 yards gained through two seasons, Southern Nash coach Brian Foster believes there’s much more in the tank for the speedy back.
“When you think about what he could've done this year it’s incredible,” Foster said. “There’s no telling how many touchdowns or yards he could’ve had if we didn’t have those running clocks.”
Southern Nash (12-2) advanced to the third round of the 3-A playoffs. But the path was littered with blowout wins and running clocks. Of the 14 games the Firebirds played, nine involved a running clock. Knight didn’t play past halftime in six of those games.
The Firebirds rarely passed the ball, attempting 65 passes all season compared with 589 rushing attempts. So teams settled in on their rushing attack, but it didn’t seem to matter. Nothing could slow Knight and backfield teammate Kendrick Bell.
Bell rushed for 1,527 and 29 touchdowns. Both backs broke previous the school record for rushing touchdowns of 27, and they did it in the same season. Still, Knight found a way to stand out.
“The first time I saw him I knew he could play,” Foster said. “He’s a talented runner. His highlight tape is pretty impressive, it’s like groundhog day. A 60-yard touchdown run, 60-yard touchdown run, 60-yard touchdown run.”
Knight looks at his success on a football field through the goals he sets for himself. As a sophomore he wanted to run for 1,000 yards. A good benchmark, he figured, to stay within striking distance of the rushing record. He needed 80 yards on the final game of the season to reach 1,000, and he turned in a 100-plus game.
His junior season, Knight wanted to run for 2,000. He fell short, but understood that he did as much as he could have with his touches. Next season, the goal is to push that carrott far enough ahead to keep his name in the trophy case for a while.
“I set these for myself,” Knight said. “I’m a driven person who wants to succeed and the things I care about. Those goals are to set me up to reach my ultimate goal, and to keep me on track.”
The 3-A Big East Conference offensive player of the year has goals to play football, and Division I offers are already rolling in. He has five offers as of this printing, including Duke, University of Illinois, East Carolina and Old Dominion.
“There will be more,” Foster said.
FIRST TEAM OFFENSE
Zonovan Knight, Jr. RB, Southern Nash -- The Big East Conference player of the year rushed for 1,877 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Kendrick Bell, Sr. RB, Southern Nash -- Bell carried 200 times for 1,527 rushing yards and 27 touchdowns.
Travis Griffin, Sr. QB, Nash Central -- Griffin threw for 2,227 yards and 30 touchdowns. Griffin also ran for 455 yards and four more scores.
Jay Smith, Sr. WR, Nash Central -- Griffin’s top target caught 39 passes for 894 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Mckinley Lyons, Sr. WR, Nash Central -- Do-it-all back caught passes and was a threat on the ground. Lyons rushed for 673 yards and 14 touchdowns, and added 454 receiving yards and four more scores.
Alex Foster, Sr. RB, SouthWest Edgecombe -- The Cougars’ bruising back ran for 1,461 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Davontae Wiggins, Jr. QB, Northern Nash -- The strong-armed quarterback passed for 1,675 yards and 17 touchdowns. Wiggins was also the second-leading rusher for the Knights, gaining 344 yards to go with three scores.
Deontae Williams, Sr. RB, Tarboro -- The state title game MVP, Williams rushed for 953 yards and a team-high 19 touchdowns.
Jaquez Edge, Jr. RB, Tarboro -- The power back in the Vikings’ three-headed backfield, Edge rushed for 933 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Jacob Braddy, Jr, RB, Rocky Mount Academy -- The elusive running back guided the Eagles to a state championship with an impressive performance in the title game. Braddy rushed for over 300 yards and six touchdowns, and added another 100-plus receiving yards in the win.
Isaiah Thomas, Jr. QB, Rocky Mount Academy -- Eagles quarterback led the team to a state championship, and turned in a heroic effort in the final game of the regular season against eventual state title game opponent Arendell Parrott.
Jaquan Lynch, So. QB, Rocky Mount High -- In his first year starting, the sophomore tossed 16 touchdowns and passed for 1,415 yards.
Jelan Watson, Sr. RB, Rocky Mount High; Charlie Williams III, Sr. RB, Rocky Mount High; Trevor Sledge, Sr. WR/TE, Northern Nash; Da’Shawn Liggins, Sr. WR, Northern Nash; Byron Hawkins, Jr. RB, Nash Central; Tarod Brown, Jr. WR, Nash Central; Tae Randolph, Sr. QB, Tarboro; Ken Belcher, Sr. OL, Tarboro; Darntrell Council, Jr. SouthWest Edgecombe; Dashon Bandy, Jr. RB, SouthWest Edgecombe; Marvin Tucker Jr., So. WR, North Edgecombe; Mark Williams Jr. Sr. QB, North Edgecombe