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Southern Nash's Knight named to AP all-state team

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As good of a senior season as Zonovan Knight had for Southern Nash High, his postseason hasn’t been too bad.

A month of honors was highlighted Friday afternoon by Knight’s inclusion on The Associated Press all-state team, becoming the first Firebird to be so honored since Kwamaine Battle in 2006. Battle, who went on to play at Virginia Tech, is an assistant coach at Southern Nash now.

Last month, Knight was named to the USA Today All-USA North Carolina first-team offense as well as the NCPreps.com first-team all-state squad. 

Knight, the Wilson Times and 3-A Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Year who graduated early and has already enrolled at North Carolina State University, was one of two running backs on the all-state team along with Elijah Burris of Mount Holly Mountain Island Charter. Knight rushed for a school-record 2,058 yards on just 124 carries for a 16.6 yards-per-carry average. He ran for 26 touchdowns and caught one TD pass as he helped the Firebirds go unbeaten in 3-A Big East Conference play for a third straight season.

He rushed for more than 100 yards in every game, including a career-high 353 yards and six TDs in a first-round state playoff win against C.B. Aycock, until he was injured and exited in the first quarter of Southern Nash’s second-round playoff loss to Eastern Alamance.

Knight also set a Southern Nash career rushing record with 5,073 yards for an amazing 12.5 yards-per-carry average.

“I just think it’s hard to repeat what he’s done,” Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster said. “It’s just crazy to think about his yards per carry, so when you look at that, it speaks for itself.”

Knight’s ability to find the end zone was especially pronounced as a kick returner. While opposing kickers and punters took great pains to keep the ball away from him, Knight returned six kickoffs for an average of 50.8 yards, including a touchdown, and both of the punts he returned were for touchdowns.

While Knight ran wild over every defense the Firebirds faced, he had two particularly impressive carries. The first came on the Firebirds’ first play from scrimmage Sept. 27 at Wake Forest when Knight bolted 80 yards for a TD against the Cougars, who would go on to win a third straight North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4-AA championship in unbeaten fashion.

The second came in the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas when he took off on a 61-yard run for North Carolina’s only TD in its 10-10 tie with South Carolina. He finished with 151 yards and was named Offensive MVP for the Tarheels.

Knight has been part of a backfield at Southern Nash with two 1,000-yard rushers each of the last three seasons. He was alongside Kendrick Bell, who just finished his freshman season at Charleston Southern, in 2016 and 2017 and Quinton Cooley, a junior who is Knight’s heir apparent next year.

“We’ve been blessed to have those guys and I’ve been proud of our line because I don’t think they’re the most talented guys, but if you think about what they do, it’s amazing,” Foster said.

Knight is the latest in a long line of star Firebird running backs dating back to Lamont Avent in the early 1990s and Julius Peppers in the late 1990s, as well as Terron Huffman, Alan Atwater, whose single-season rushing record Knight broke, and Tracey Coppedge, whose career rushing mark Knight broke.

With the exception of Peppers, a likely NFL hall-of-famer after he retires, the 6-foot-0, 188-pound Knight has the one thing the other Southern Nash running backs didn’t have — size.

“We’ve had some good ones, but it’s nice to have a big one!” Foster said.