KNIGHTDALE — Talk to fourth-year Knightdale football coach Rob Senseney about the status of his program, and you'll get an earful on the topic of identity.
Senseney took over the a Knights program in 2010 following a 1-11 season in 2009. Since then, Senseneys clubs have posted better records each consecutive year (3-8 in 2011, 4-6 in 2012) and last season had a winning record (7-4, 5-2 Greater Neuse River 4A) for the first time 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. His Gretna High teams won Virginia 2A state championships in 2003 and 2004.
We want to compete for the conference title, plain and simple, Senseney said. If were playing games that have conference title implications, were going to be in the playoffs.
His team had impressive wins over Millbrook, rival East Wake and Southeast Raleigh last year.
The Knights were 6-1 and 4-0in conference, 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 with the second, a 39-14 defeat, coming in the first round of the state playoffs.
Garner and Clayton, Senseney said, have something Knightdale is still working to establish.
The kids at Garner believe in that name on their jersey, and theres something to be said about that, he said. You have to convince your kids they dont have to believe in that name on (a Garner players) jersey they have to believe in the name on their own jersey.
They have to say, We're Knightdale and were supposed to win.'
The Knights return nearly every player from last year's explosive offense.
Senior Marquavious Johnson is a run-first quarterback who gained 1,213 yards on the ground, scored 20 touchdowns and averaged 110.3 rushing yards.
Senseney mentioned nine other offensive standouts, including Marquavious brother, 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 have named several more.
Weve a lot of depth at the skill positions the dead opposite of last year when we had a lot of depth in the line, Senseney said. Were surrounding all of that around our quarterback. Our goal is to try and bind teams and make them say we cant just cover No. 23 (Marquavious Johnson.)
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.
Senseney said he is somewhat relieved the last three years are behind him.
Now, hes 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 schedule favors Knightdale this season. The Knights will be at home for four of their biggest conference tests Clayton, Southeast Raleigh, Garner and East Wake. Before those games, Senseney hopes to use the Aug. 23 season opener at Sanderson to erase memories of last year's season-ending loss to Clayton.
We just didn't feel like we finished the season the right way with the two losses, 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.