The Wolfpacker

July-August 2020 Issue

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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JULY/AUGUST 2020 ■ 37 RUNNING BACKS Young Talent Returns BY JUSTIN H. WILLIAMS T he Wolfpack brings back its three lead- ing rushers from last season in top ground gainer Zonovan Knight, a soph- omore; speedy classmate Jordan Houston; and junior Ricky Person Jr., a former prized top-100 recruit. Knight led the group in carries last sea- son (11.3 per game), but the Pack's rushing attack was a group effort with Houston and Person — who was limited to seven appearances — each earning 8.4 and 8.7 totes per game, respectively. Knight (5.5) and Houston (5.2) both averaged north of 5.0 yards per rush. While it's possible Knight could earn a greater bulk of the carries this year if he remains healthy, the complementary skill sets among the trio will likely result in another by-committee attack. Versa- tile redshirt sophomore Trent Pennix, who gained 55 yards on 13 carries in 2019, is also back. "At running back, we've got talent and experience now," NC State head coach Dave Doeren said. "We'll see who emerges as a lead back, if we have one, or if it's more of a rotation." Headed by new position coach Kurt Roper, previously the Wolfpack's quar- terbacks mentor in 2019, running back is likely the most complete position group on offense entering this season. Given that and exactly 1,500 returning rushing yards from 2019 between Knight, Houston and Person, the NCSU ground attack is poised to be a strength in 2020. Remaining healthy will be the key, and not just at running back. While Person missed five games due to an ankle injury and Knight played most of the season banged up, the plague of injuries on the of- fensive line proved to be the Pack's biggest obstacle in the rushing game last year. SPOTLIGHT PLAYER SOPHOMORE ZONOVAN "BAM" KNIGHT Knight, from Southern Nash High in Bailey, N.C., was considered the No. 21 running back in the country and a four-star prospect in the 2019 class by The 6-0, 197-pounder lived up to his nickname "Bam" last season — per Pro Football Focus, 69.9 percent of his 745 rushing yards came after contact, and he tied for 24th nationally and was second among all true fresh - men with 3.8 yards after contact per carry last year (minimum 130 carries). The hard-charging rusher be- came the first true freshman to lead the Wolfpack in ground yards since Shadrach Thornton in 2012. Although he battled injuries throughout the campaign, Knight still averaged 5.5 yards per carry on his 136 totes and scored five rushing touchdowns. His rushing total ranked sixth nationally among all true freshmen. PROJECTED DEPTH CHART STARTER No. Name Year Ht. Wt. Hometown 24 Zonovan Knight So. 6-0 197 Bailey, N.C. RESERVES 20 Jordan Houston So. 5-10 185 Waldorf, Md. 8 Ricky Person Jr. Jr. 6-1 220 Wake Forest, N.C. WAITING IN THE WINGS 34 Delbert Mimms III R-Fr. 5-11 222 Indianapolis 26 Trent Pennix R-So. 6-2 224 Raleigh ■ PRESEASON ANALYSIS ★★★★ Among country's best; ★★★ Among ACC's best; ★★ Solid or has potential; ★ Too unproven STARTER: ★★½ Assuming the group can stay healthy, there's reason to be optimistic that the top trio of sophomore Zonovan Knight, junior Ricky Person Jr. and sophomore Jordan Houston could each see an increase in production this year, especially if the offensive line can take a step forward and the passing game threatens opposing defenses. DEPTH: ★★★ No matter who earns the most carries as the starting running back this fall, there is comfort in knowing the other two will provide quality depth at the top. Knight, Houston and Person have rushed for a combined 1,971 yards and 12 touchdowns in 40 appearances (12 starts). Behind the primary trio is local product and redshirt sophomore Trent Pennix. Pennix totaled 277 all-purpose yards his first two years (154 receiving with two touchdowns) and is a versatile athlete with pass-catching ability that has been used at times as a tight end. EXPERIENCE: ★★½ Person may be the only upperclassman among the Pack's running backs this year, but Knight and Houston now have experience. However, a young, talented group such as the running backs is not immune to growing pains. OVERALL ★★½ The talent at running back should be one of the Wolfpack's strengths this season. Knight, Person and Houston have all proven to be more than capable backs with each likely to receive plenty of carries this fall. BY THE NUMBERS 12 Of the Wolfpack's 28 touchdowns (10 rushing and two receiving) were scored by running backs last year. 35th Nationally and third among all true freshmen is where sophomore Zonovan Knight ranked last year in Pro Football Focus' elusive rating (minimum 130 rushes), a metric that "distills the success and impact of a runner with the ball independently of the blocking in front of him." 53 Yards on Knight's touchdown run versus Clemson in 2019, the Pack's lon- gest running play of the year. It was actually only two yards shorter than the team's longest pass. PHOTO BY KEN MARTIN

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