New Look 'Birds: With only Knight back on offense, Southern Nash looks to fill other vacancies


Southern Nash's Zonovan Knight, shown during a game last season, is the only returning starter on offense for the Firebirds.


Sports Writer

Monday, August 6, 2018

We’re nearing the end of our team-by-team look at the area’s upcoming high school football season. Tomorrow’s edition will be Faith Christian.

Another hot and sticky summer training camp, another year coaching for Southern Nash’s Brian Foster, who enters his 29th overall season with the Firebirds and his 21st as the head coach.

At this point, the seasons blend together. The fleeting moments of summer are mopped up by August, and this preseason in particular has been as bad weather-wise as he can remember it.

But all is well for a man who knows he’s doing what he’s meant to do.

“I know where I’m supposed to be,” said Foster after a rain-drenched practice last week. “If you’re down on what you’re doing, or don’t believe in what you’re doing, than you’re doing the wrong thing. I feel good about what I’m doing.”

Like any, this August has been about replacing those who have moved on. This one just happens to be a little more dramatic.

From a season ago, where the Firebirds were among the best in 3-A with a 12-2 record and a run to the third round of the playoffs, they’ll have to reassemble a defensive backfield and almost the entire offense.

On that side, the tight ends are gone. The offensive line is gone. Kendrick Bell, a prolific high school running back who is just getting started at Charleston Southern, is gone. And so is their quarterback. In all, 10 starters graduated this past spring.

“Tight end to tight end — we lost every one of them. All seven of our blockers,” Foster said.

Luckily, the one player still standing is a good one. Zonovan Knight, one of the state’s top running backs who recently committed to N.C. State, is back for a senior year that will follow a special junior season. He teamed with Bell to create a monstrous rushing duo in 2017.

With Bell gone, Foster thinks Quinton Cooley, a junior who was named to NCPreps’ Preseason All-State Team as a kick returner, can help fill the void and act as that co-rusher with Knight in an offense that favors a balanced rushing attack rather than one featured player.

Cooley played outside linebacker last year on defense, and only got 12 carries on offense because of the two players ahead of him.

“He’s a football player,” Foster said. “He’s real smart to the game. He’s got talent on top of it.”

At quarterback, Matt Foster, Brian’s son, will start the season as the replacement for Lorenzo Sessoms.

On defense, Nadir Thompson (Virginia Tech) and Dae’one Wilkins (Furman) are among the handful of key departures.

Most of the 22 starters are penciled in. They’ll have to wait until opening night against Cary Green Hope to see which of them will step up and help Southern Nash contend for another Big East title in 2018.

“We’ve got people that are capable. They just haven’t done it in a varsity setting,” Foster said. “It’s going to be totally different. But we deal with that every year.”

Last year: Lost to Havelock, 49-39, in the third round of the 3-A playoffs.

Record: 12-2

3,404: The number of yards that Zonovan Knight and Kendrick Bell rushed for last season.

One: The number of starting returners the Firebirds will have on offense.

Key losses: Kendrick Bell, Nadir Thompson, Dae’one Wilkins, Hunter Perry, Lorenzo Sessoms.

Key returners: Quinton Cooley, Zonovan Knight.