Humbled Knight starting career with a 'Bam'

Brett Friedlander

Zonovan Knight arrived at NC State in January with a four-star resume and a swagger to match.

He only added to his reputation by rushing for 139 yards on 17 carries in the Wolfpack's annual Kay Yow Spring Game, a performance punctuated by an electrifying 73-yard touchdown run.

The problem is, the early success went straight to the talented freshman's head.

"I think he had a big head this summer and read his press clippings too much," coach Dave Doeren said of his budding star, who recorded his first career 100-yard rushing game on Saturday in State's 41-0 win against Western Carolina. "I think he thought it was going to be easy. It’s not easy. It’s hard. It’s hard to get yards."

That's a lesson he learned early in preseason camp, when his lackluster efforts sent him hurdling in the wrong direction on the Wolfpack's depth chart. 

It took some negative reinforcement from veteran teammates on the defensive side of the ball along with some positive reinforcement from two trusted outside sources for him to finally snap back to reality.

"I had a three-day period where I fumbled every day," Knight said. "I just had to sit down and talk to my mom because I was at a point where I was thinking about quitting. But I talked to my high school coach and my mom and they told me to take care of business and control yourself."

The transformation in Knight's play was immediate the moment he began heeding the advice, to the point that Doeren had no hesitation in calling the youngster's number at the end of the Wolfpack's opening drive of the season.

Knight took that opportunity and ran with it, literally, right into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown the first time he touched the ball as a college player. He ended up leading State in rushing with 42 yards on nine carries in the 34-6 win against East Carolina.

He followed that up with an even more impressive 119-yards, two-touchdown performance last week against WCU. It was the earliest a Wolfpack runner has recorded a 100-yard game in his career since Tremayne Stephens did in his first game in 1994.

"It’s good experience for him, to be honest with you," Doeren said. "It’s good experience to be humbled."

At 6-foot, 197 pounds, Knight combines the quickness of a speed back with the physical style of a power back. His willingness to run over defenders earned him the nickname "Bam" while he was setting rushing records at Southern Nash High.

"He’s physical, he gets north and south. He’s a 200-pounder but he runs hard, he really runs behind his pads and drives his legs on contact," Doeren said. "I really like how he fights for extra yards, and he takes care of the football."

Although Knight has been State's most effective rushing threat during the early going this season, he is by far the only one. He is joined in the backfield by a rotation that includes sophomore Ricky Person Jr., redshirt freshman Trent Pennix and fellow true freshman Jordan Houston.

Between them, the foursome, along with walkon Will Dabbs and others, carved up the Catamounts 309 yards on the ground while averaging 5.8 yards per carry and taking pressure off the shoulders of equally young quarterback Matthew McKay as he grows comfortable with his new role.

"Seeing them develop the running game helps me out a lot," McKay said.