Zephaniah Wall apologized to the interviewer for being late.
“I was late getting away from work,” said Monroe High’s senior quarterback, who’s had a full-time summer job working with a company that provides services to area residents with disabilities.
“It’s a way I can help people.”
That could be a long-term career goal for Wall, a busy guy about to begin his fourth season as his team’s starting quarterback. But the goals for the moment have to do with football.
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The Redhawks have a hard act to follow from last year - a historic 16-0 season and the Class 2AA state championship, the first in the school’s history.
“We want another ring,” said Wall, who is 5-foot-11 and 190 pounds. “We feel like we can do the same thing that we did last year and be one of the best teams in the state.”
Wall also doesn’t shy away from talking about his personal goals. How would he like to be remembered when his career is over, however this season ends?
“I hope it’s as one of the best players ever to come out of Monroe High and out of Union County,” he said.
And then there are the numbers. Wall said he’d like to top last year’s 45 touchdown passes, among top 10 single-season performances in N.C. high school football history. His 3,572 passing yards were also one for the books, and he says he’d like to finally top the 1,000-yard rushing mark for a season - he had 630 last season with 10 touchdowns.
“I’d like to take everything up a notch,” he said. “My four-year mindset has been to be a leader on and off the field.”
It’s been a journey that has helped transform the Redhawks from a good program to a great one.
“We’ve built from the ground up,” says coach Johnny Sowell, a multi-sport standout at Monroe High in the late 1970s and early ’80s who has led the program the past 12 seasons. “We knocked on the door for a lot of years before finally getting to the top.”
And he doesn’t hesitate to say he believes his team can stay there.
“We feel pretty good,” said Sowell, who played college football at Appalachian State. “It was great to enjoy last year, but this is a new year. Everybody’s out to get you. We’d like to go undefeated, anybody would. But even if we don’t we still have goals.”
And they’ve got significant players returning besides their standout quarterback.
Senior linebacker Jaqwaun Coffie led the team in tackles last season and senior defensive back Jadarious McManus leads an experienced secondary.
On offense, the Redhawks lost more than 2,400 yards in total offense and 32 touchdowns in Braxton Knotts, who will play at Bluefield (W.Va.) College this fall.
Junior McKinley Nelson, a three-year starter at fullback, rushed for 746 yards and four touchdowns last season.
And Wall has an experienced group of receivers to throw to, led by McManus (53 receptions for 1,209 yards and 11 touchdowns last season). Kicker Brayan Diaz booted a 47-yard field goal in the state title game, a 38-19 win against Bunn.
The season begins Aug. 19 at home against Sun Valley, part of a tough nonconference schedule before the team begins Rocky River 2A conference play. Marvin Ridge, Weddington and Anson County also highlight the pre-conference
Sowell hopes that it will be a season that won’t just be successful, but will be fun to watch.
“We’re not always the biggest team on the field, but we’re going to bring a lot of energy and a lot of speed on both sides of the ball.”
Observer Sweet 16: Monroe Redhawks
The Observer continues with previews of teams in its annual preseason Sweet 16 high school football poll. The teams will be revealed in alphabetical order. The poll, with numerical order, will be released following the previews.
Head coach: Johnny Sowell (12th as head coach)
2015 record: 16-0, (5-0, Rocky River conference champion)
Key returning starters: Zephaniah Wall, Sr., QB (6-0, 195); Jadarious McManus, Jr., WR/DB (6-0, 170); Dashawn Goings, Jr., DL/OL (5-11, 260); McKinley Nelson, So., RB/LB (5-11, 195); Miquille Bryant, Jr., LB (5-8, 166); Jaqwaun Coffie, Sr., LB; Deandre Staton, Sr., LB/DT.
Key newcomers: Trey Shepherd, Fr., QB/DB (6-2, 162); Jonathan Phillips, So., RB/WR (5-8, 155); Treayon Kenion, So., DE/WR (6-4, 180); Hasson Lane, So., OL/DL (6-2, 240); Christopher Colon, Fr., LB (5-11, 170).
Outlook: The Redhawks believe they can repeat as 2A state champions with senior quarterback Zephaniah Wall back to lead the team.