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STANHOPE — Life is coming at Zonovan Knight as fast as he came at opposing defensive players in his career as a Southern Nash High football player.
Less than a week after picking up the Offensive MVP award for the North Carolina team in the 82nd annual Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas, Knight made official his decision to continue his career at North Carolina State University. Knight signed his National Letter of Intent on Wednesday in the first day of the three-day early signing period for NCAA Division I football. He plans to graduate from Southern Nash at the end of the semester and enroll at N.C. State in January.
“Now that its official, I feel like I’m ready to move in and start working toward next year,” Knight said.
He committed to the Wolfpack in July after de-committing from Duke earlier in the spring. Knight had given the Blue Devils his verbal commitment in March but had a change of heart. He said that everything about State and head coach Dave Doeren seemed right.
“I just liked what he stood for and how the coaching staff was so together every time I visited,” Knight said. “You could tell they were like family towards each other.”
And family played a role in Knight’s decision. His father, C.J. Taybron, signed with the Wolfpack as a senior at Southern Nash in 1998 and Zonovan Knight’s cousin, Dwayne Herndon, did the same as a Firebirds senior in 2000.
However, Knight remained a hot property throughout his senior season, in part because of the insane numbers he was putting up. He ran for 2,054 yards — a school record — on just 124 carries for an eye-popping 16.6 yards per carry. Knight also set the Firebirds career rushing mark with 5,073 yards and averaged 12.5 yards per carry over three varsity seasons.
He said he got “17, 18” offers but Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster reminded Knight that number increased over the last two weeks, with Michigan and Ohio State among the schools interested in the 6-foot, 188-pound running back.
“He got a text from Michigan the other day saying that if he wanted them, they wanted him,” Foster said.
But Knight had a plan, even before he knew he would sign with N.C. State, to finish high school early. That was only possible because of his good grades. Foster said that Knight’s GPA is 3.27 and, more impressively, he made straight As last grading period while taking three core classes.
Knight said he decided to plan for early graduation last year when former teammate Nadir Thompson, who is a freshman at Virginia Tech, didn’t pull it off.
“ I started telling (Foster) that I wanted to get my classes in order to make sure I could graduate,” Knight said. “I guess because of Nadir. He was supposed to leave early last year and he didn’t. Foster said he was going to make sure I left early.”
Because Knight was going to need a foreign language, Foster made sure he took that last spring.
“Most of our kids are caught up with their math and you’ve got to make sure they have their English first semester (of senior year), but the biggest thing with these state schools is you’ve got to make sure they’re not waiting until their senior year to take their foreign language,” Foster explained. “So we moved his English to first semester and he took his foreign language last year.”
Knight said that enrolling early meant he could participate in spring practice and have a shot at playing as a true freshman instead of taking a redshirt season in the fall. With starting running back Reggie Gallaspy graduating and rising sophomore Ricky Person dealing with injuries, Knight believes he will have that chance.
“(N.C. State coaches) say, me leaving early, is going to give me a head start on the playbook and I will have a good chance of playing in the fall,” he said.
For the most part, Knight said he’s more excited about going to college than sad about leaving home.
“As of right now I don’t think I’ll miss it but, down the line, I’m sure I will start to miss it,” he said, adding that he will miss “the people” at Southern Nash more than anything.
But he embraces the chance to make new friends.
“I guess meeting new people because everywhere you go, you hear that you’ll meet new people and make new connections that’ll last you a lifetime. So I’m looking forward to getting that feel,” he said.
Foster thinks that Knight possesses the maturity to succeed at any level.
“I think as long as he listens to the right people and realizes who’s real and there, I think he’ll be fine,” said the Firebirds coach. “He’s always been humble. He’s used to being, not fussed at but told that he’s not great every day. And he’s going to be told a different way and he may have to get used to that.
“He’ll be successful. You can’t fake what he’s got, no matter who he’s playing against or where he’s doing it. He’s got the ability to be really, really good.”