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KNIGHTDALE — After a 1-4 league record and an early 4A state playoff exit last fall, the difference in 2019 spring football mood is like night and day for the Knightdale High School football program.
Knightdale possesses a two-year postseason streak. It also retains enough individual firepower to obliterate recent disappointments.
“I’ve been losing sleep over it, but it’s the kids who have stepped up and dedicated themselves to getting better,” said head coach Anthony Timmons, who now leads his fourth squad here in the aftermath of a 23-17 overtime playoff defeat on the road at perennial powerhouse Middle Creek. “They told me, ‘Coach, we don’t want to be in that situation again. We’re gonna find a way to fix it.’ So right now, our focus is on us.”
Looking around the 10 permitted practices, plenty of positive sights abounded. Rising senior Khalil Denis is back at linebacker in the wake of a 2018 campaign where he racked up 111 tackles, nine tackles for a loss and a pad-popping highlight reel.
“I want people to label me the best, the greatest, in my area,” said Denis, who has patrolled the gridiron with 197 tackles, three quarterback sacks and 16 tackles for loss the past two years. “I don’t think a lot of people believe in us right now, because of all the guys who left. But I think our boys, my teammates, we’re gonna grind every day to get better and push each other.”
A shove in the right direction will be applied by defensive frontman Aneas Peebles, a heavily recruited mayhem-maker who bagged 89 tackles, 13.5 tackles for losses, six sacks and nine hurries amid a busy junior jamboree.
Evan McCray led the offense in grabs (22), touchdowns (six) and receiving yards (326) last year. Kameron Davis (two touchdowns, 17 yards-per-snag average) and Jerome Washington (32 yards per catch) proved to be big-play youngsters ripening in the field.
Supplying them the pigskin will be soon-to-be third-year quarterback Dax Hardy. He passed for 701 yards in 2018 while producing 1,300 all-purpose yards, 16 touchdowns and 85 points during his injury-abbreviated tenure. The junior-to-be is also an accurate placekicker.
Hardy hands off to former freshman sensation Trevion Cooley (over 900 rushing yards, four triple-figure ground games, 7.4 yards per carry and 42 points tallied) and double-duty performer Nickili Mohammed (426 yards rushing, 5 yards per plunge opposite 72 tackles and seven tackles for losses on the other side of scrimmage). That trio accounted for 2,300 total yards and 23 touchdowns overall.
Knightdale’s brief reveal included a final combine where 40-yard-dash times were accumulated, passing duels were conducted, linemen challenged each other in pressure drills, a seven-on-seven format unfurled, a full scrimmage entertained a sideline crowd of more than 30 spectators and the separate positions tussled in a concluding tug of war series.
The offense pulled off victories in both the line and back categories, while the defensive secondary yanked a triumph against their receiver counterparts.
“I like what I’ve seen so far,” Timmons said. “It’s always a process, but we are showing that intensity it takes. This is a group that came in with me. A lot of guys really understand my way of doing things, my philosophy. They have embraced our team motto: ‘One Mind, One Heart, One Soul.’ I’m really happy about that.”
The introduction session thus instilled a warm feeling which will only heat up when the summer phase arrives.