Taking shape

Firebirds coming into form as conditioning period winds down

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STANHOPE — For someone who swears photo day is his least favorite practice day of the season, Southern Nash High head coach Brian Foster always seems to enjoy the banter with his coaches and players.

Even as he frets over one player wearing the wrong color socks or another having his hands not just so for the team photo, Foster, starting his 21st season as Firebirds head coach, has been in the business long enough to know that photo day is a necessary distraction as another Southern Nash football team gets ready to buckle up for a long season.

Just three days into the first week of practice, the first game looms a little more than two weeks away for Southern Nash. The Firebirds will host Cary Green Hope in the season opener Friday, Aug. 17. A week from this Friday, Southern Nash will participate in the Harnett County Jamboree at Campbell University in Buies Creek. Foster said the team is scheduled to scrimmage at 5 and 6 p.m.

That leaves precious little time for a team that sustained significant losses to graduation. Never mind that the Firebirds have put together consecutive 12-win seasons and have won 11 straight 3-A Big East Conference games.

“We lost everybody on the offense except for Bam,” Foster said, referring to 6-foot-0, 186-pound senior running back Zonovan Knight, the Big East Offensive Player of the Year and Wilson Times Co-Offensive Player of the Year with former teammate Kendrick Bell, one of the many graduated Firebirds.

Foster isn’t sure what to make of his team so far but thinks the 2018 Firebirds have a chance to be successful just like the last two editions were.

“If they work hard. Some of them need to get a little more serious,” he said. “I’ll be interested to see what they do when we hit. Last year — and people may not believe this — the only time we went out heavy was the first week before the first game. After that we never hit in practice ever. it’s just that those guys would kill each other! With this group, I don’t know what it’ll be like. We lost tight end to tight end (on the offensive line) and you think you’ve got some guys who’ll go in a game and do well.”

There are some experienced players back on offense besides Knight, who has verbally committed to North Carolina State. Junior running back Quinton Cooley was sensational as a sophomore last fall and Darius Edmundson averaged a whopping on 27.1 yards on just eight carries. Desmond Vick and Daylon Whitley both got offensive touches.

Junior Matt Foster, the coach’s youngest son, will start at quarterback, just as his older brother, Zack, did in 2014 and 2015 for the Firebirds. Matt Foster was the starting junior varsity QB last season.

But just like last season, Southern Nash will have a completely new starting line, which might not be as dire as it sounds since the Firebirds have been playing the same system at the JV level. After all, having all new starters on the offensive line didn’t slow down Southern Nash in 2017.

Defensively, Southern Nash has more starters back, including senior ends Kedric Anderson and Ricky Knight and senior middle linebacker Justin Quintavalle, who played alongside Hunter Perry, the Big East and Times Defensive Player of the Year last season. Now it’s Quintavalle’s turn to show the ropes to junior Cameron Thompson in the middle.

“As you get into a program, I think that’s the way it should be,” Brian Foster said. “The older guys should be showing the younger guys and hopefully it’ll stay that way.”

The Firebirds will complete their mandatory six-day conditioning period by the end of the week and put on the pads as they prepare for the jamboree next week.

“We’ve installed everything we’re going to install,” Brian Foster said. “It’s just a matter of seeing if they can do it when it’s live.”