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Former Firebird Coppedge happy for Knight as he nears record

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Southern Nash's Tracey Coppedge runs the ball Friday during the second quarter of the game against SouthWest Edgecombe at Southern Nash High School.

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Football isn’t the most important thing in Tracey Coppedge’s life anymore. The 25-year-old Southern Nash and Elon graduate has a job at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, a home in Farmville, and a schedule filled with all of the usual post-grad necessities.

But there was a time when football was paramount, lighthearted and a joy to play.

“Carefree,” Coppedge said during a phone call on Thursday night, recalling his high school days. “No responsibilities other than playing football and doing your job.”

Now almost seven years ago — a Nov. 7, 2011 game against Northern Nash (he still remembers the details) — was the landmark moment of his time playing for the Firebirds. A rush against the Knights that game put him past Lamont Avent for first place on Southern Nash’s all-time rushing list. He finished his career in Bailey with 4,157 yards.

It happened early in the game, and he insists now he didn’t realize what had happened until later.

“Mostly it was just another game,” he said. “But I remember they announced it later. I just smiled and said, ‘That’s what’s up.’”

Seven years later, Coppedge’s time atop the leaderboard is coming to an end. Senior Zonovan Knight is closing in on his number, with just 309 rush yards standing between him and first place — a number he could conceivably get next Friday.

“I didn’t know that,” Coppedge said, laughing.

He still checks in on his Firebirds from time-to-time, he said, but not like when he was fresh out of high school, and the grapevine has passed along a good deal of talk about Knight, an N.C. State commit and one of the best running backs in the state.

The record still matters to him, but he’s excited for the senior.

“Records are meant to be broken. I set the bar high,” Coppedge said. “I’m happy for him — I heard he’s talented. It’s helped get him to where he needs to be.”

Without ever having met, the two are on the same page there. Coppedge’s run seven years ago continues to inspire. Knight said as much after his junior season.

(“I’m looking at the trophy case, I’m seeing Peppers, seeing the stuff he did, then I come across that rushing mark,” Knight told the Telegram last year. “So I set a goal. I was going to do it. I wanted to make my mark.”)

Coppedge was a part of a few strong Southern Nash teams, including one that made a trip to the 3-A semi-finals in 2009.

After his senior season wrapped up, Coppedge inked with Elon and played as a true freshman, eventually being named to the Southern Conference All-Freshman team.

He featured for the Phoenix for the next two years, leading the team in rushing yards as a junior, but a new coach came in for his senior season; the two didn’t see eye-to-eye and his playing time shrank. He graduated in May of 2016 with a dispirited taste.

“College was a business, a job, a lot of different decisions you had to make,” he said. “I mean, the biggest thing, you had to bring it 100 percent every single day. You can be starting one week and be fourth string the next. I guess I started looking a little deeper into what football was.”

(He still keeps up with Elon, which upset FCS No. 2 James Madison this past weekend.)

So, with everything he experienced, as a star in high school and as a Division I running back, what would Coppedge tell a senior in high school, someone like Knight?

“Whatever happens, you have to remember why you’re there. Always have a main goal. Things will not always go the way it’s supposed to go — just control what you can control,” he said. “Anything outside of that, that’s gone with the wind. But he’s got (coach Brian) Foster in his corner, that’s one of the reasons I am where I am.”

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