KNIGHTDALE — Talk to fourth-year Knightdale football coach Rob Senseney on the status of his program, and you’ll get an earful on the topic of identity.
Senseney in 2010 took over a Knights team that had gone 1-11 in 2009. Knightdale’s record has improved every year since, and Senseney coached last year’s team to the school’s first winning season (7-4, 5-2 Greater Neuse River 4A) in school history.
But finishing third in the league isn’t enough for a coach who held a career record of 79-19 prior to taking over at Knightdale – two of those wins being Virginia 2A State Championships in 2003 and 2004.
“We want to compete for the conference title, plain and simple,” Senseney said. “If we’re playing games that have conference title implications, we’re going to be in the playoffs.”
His team made statements last season with wins over Millbrook, rival East Wake and Southeast Raleigh.
The Knights were undefeated in conference play through seven weeks, setting up a first-place battle with Garner. The Trojans ended up rolling to a 42-7 victory on their home turf, and Knightdale’s season ended with back-to-back losses to Clayton – the second loss coming in the first round of the state playoffs.
Those two longtime powerhouses, Senseney said, have something Knightdale is still working to establish.
“The kids at Garner believe in that name on their jersey, and there’s something to be said about that,” he said. “You have to convince your kids they don’t have to believe in that name on (a Garner player’s) jersey – they have to believe in the name on their own jersey.
“The have to say, ‘We’re Knightdale and we’re supposed to win.’ ”
Depth in key places: Pretty much every player returns from last year’s explosive offense.
At the scoring nucleus is senior Marquavious Johnson, a double-threat quarterback who amassed 1,213 yards, 20 touchdowns and 110.3 yards per game on the ground in his junior season.
Senseney mentioned nine other offensive standouts, including Marquavious’ brother and senior tailback Marcell Johnson, senior wide receiver Lamont Chaney, senior running back Nate Harvey and senior all-purpose player Chris Malone. He said he could’ve named several more.
“We’ve got a lot of depth at the skill position – the dead opposite of last year when we had a lot of depth at the line,” Senseney said. “We’re surrounding all of that around our quarterback. Our goal is to try and bind teams and make them say we can’t just cover No. 23.”
That doesn’t mean the Knightdale lines are lacking. Returning to hold down the offensive front are senior Tyler Palochak and junior Duncan Harris. On the defensive side is “a bevy of defensive linemen and defensive ends,” according to Senseney.
Pressure comes from within: In seeing significant improvement last season, Senseney enters this season somewhat relieved the last three years are behind him.
Now, he’s pushing himself to propel the program even further.
“No one is going to put more pressure on me than me,” he said. “What I want to do is put these kids in position to win.”
The Knights are scheduled to host four of their greatest conference tests – Clayton, Southeast, Garner and East Wake. Before those contests, Senseney hopes to use the Aug. 23 season opener at Sanderson to erase memories of last year’s conclusion.
“We just didn’t feel like we finished the season the right way with the two losses (to Clayton),” Senseney said. “It was a different discussion, at least – the kids saying we didn’t like how we finished in the playoffs instead of the regular season.”