2018 ALL-AREA FOOTBALL OFFENSIVE PLAYER: From the shadows: Cooley emerged this year as a big-game player

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Southern Nash's Quinton Cooley is the 2018 All-Area Offensive Football Player of the Year.


Sports Writer

Monday, December 31, 2018

With more than a month to digest the night Quinton Cooley rushed for a single-game school record of 413 yards against Eastern Alamance in the second round of the 3-A NCHSAA playoffs, Southern Nash head coach Brian Foster is confident now in what he saw that night.

It’s a new No. 1 for him. 

“That’s the most impressive thing I’ve ever seen in athletics,” Foster said.

For Cooley, the Telegram’s 2018 All-Area Offensive Football Player of the Year, the 413 yards rushing in that game — an eventual 57-56 loss — even without the context is notable.

But the context is what most impressed Foster. Zonovan Knight, now a running back for N.C. State, played two offensive possessions the entire game, leaving with an injured ankle early on. Then, Cooley’s shoulder popped out.

He missed only two-and-a-half possessions, finishing with four touchdowns and close to half-a-thousand yards. 

“I always tell my kids, if they don’t love me they don’t need to play for me, and if I don’t love them I won’t be coaching them,” Foster said. “At some point it’s going to show. I think that he showed he loved us. Not just me but the community, the school. You can’t fake that.”

The 2018 season was Cooley’s first full year on the offensive side of the ball, filling in alongside Knight in the two-back system.

The end results were a larger sample size of that game against Eastern Alamance. The junior finished with 1,756 yards rushing, 30 touchdowns and an 11.8 yards per carry mark. He also caught three touchdown passes and threw for another. The Firebirds, before that snake-bitten night, had quiet state title aspirations, thanks in large part to the major role jump for Cooley.

On paper, it was a breakout year, but the statistics weren’t much of a surprise to Foster, who was coyly calm about losing Kendrick Bell, who graduated in 2018, knowing Cooley would be plugged in in his place.

The two met in 2011, when Cooley moved to Nash County, and Foster has vouched for him ever since. The confidence paid off in a big way this season.

“He’s like a part of my family. He’s been friends with (Foster’s son) Matt since forever. He comes over to the house, on vacations,” Foster said. “You can’t help but like him. He’s always been that likable kid.”

In a recent interview, Cooley talked about his junior season, his favorite football team and what the number 413 means to him as part of our All-Area series.

How’d you find out you were one of the Telegram’s football players of the year?

I found out earlier today. I got weightlifting fourth period. Coach Foster came up to me and told me. I was surprised because I didn’t know what he was talking about. I got a text this morning. It just said, ‘Stay after school for a little bit.’ I thought I was in trouble. (laughs)

To see Zonovan Knight sign with N.C. State, does that inspire you?

Yeah, you don’t see too many players get attention like that. Nash County is a small county. I’m glad to see Zonovan Knight do big things. If he can do it, I can do it just like he did. It’s always been my goal since I was a little dude, going to play in college, experiencing college life, seeing if I can make it to the next level.

How’d you get your start playing football?

My aunt first signed me up. I wasn’t a sports guy until I got older, but she signed me up and I just went out there. I wasn’t even a running back. I was a defensive player. The coach liked me, he saw me, he put me on offense and defense. I was six years old. The team was the Zebulon Cougars. That’s where it started.

When Zonovan got hurt in that playoff game, was your attitude, ‘Well, it’s now or never’?

It really was, because Bam was a big part of our offense. We’re two-headed monsters. So with him out it was my turn to step up.

That number — 413 — is that an iconic number to you now?

It really is. (Foster) called me into the office. He just said, ‘You know you had 413 yards tonight?’ I was like, wow. I was upset we lost. Coaches say it don’t mean nothing if we lose, that’s true, but the goal for me now is to break that record.

What’s one thing people like to say about you?

When everybody meets me, they say I have a big beautiful smile. Because when I’m talking I just like to smile.

What’s a professional team you like to follow?

The New York Giants. I liked them growing up. I like the Manning brothers and my favorite player’s not even a running back. Brett Favre. He can sling that thing. He can sling that pigskin.


Running backs 

Zonovan Knight, Sr., Southern Nash

Rodell Bridges, Sr., Rocky Mount High

Keon Caudle, Sr., Tarboro

Byron Hawkins, Sr., Nash Central

Shaikey Hardy, So., Faith Christian

Devonte Barnes, Jr., North Edgecombe


Jayden Lewis, Sr., SouthWest Edgecombe

Jaquan Lynch, Jr., Rocky Mount High

Davontae Wiggins Sr., Northern Nash

Kimani McDaniels, Jr., Tarboro

Wide receivers 

Ta’Rod Brown, Sr., Northern Nash

Keishon Porter, Jr., SouthWest Edgecombe 

Offensive linemen

Matthew Medford, Sr., Tarboro

Desmond Barnes, Sr., Rocky Mount High 

Dale Batchelor, Sr., Southern Nash

Zack Baker, Jr., Southern Nash