By Amy Wenk
The Pace Academy Knights proved courageous on the football field but still awkward in their armor this fall.
In the private school’s first varsity football season, previewed in the Reporter’s Aug. 8-21 edition, the team posted a 3-7 record playing in Region 5A but won “the three most important games,” Athletic Director Kris Palmerton said.
The 54-player squad defeated Mount Paran Christian School in the season opener. Josh Swan, who shared quarterback duties with fellow sophomore Will Brewster, ran 47 yards to score the school’s first varsity touchdown.
“I think that there was a great amount of enthusiasm at the beginning of the season,” head coach Matt Hall said. “I think that once we got into region play, our players got a little discouraged because of some of our early losses. … But I think that we had great perseverance throughout the year, and the players really had a desire to be a better individual player and a better team.”
After losing the next six games, the Knights again tackled victory against Southwest Atlanta Christian School in the homecoming game, and they won the season finale on the road against Our Lady of Mercy Catholic High School.
The players “were extremely excited, especially the seniors,” Palmerton said about the last game Nov. 7. “This was their first and only year to play on varsity. It was great for them to go out with a win. The underclassmen were excited for them and have a lot to look forward to.”
The Knights’ biggest strength so far, he added, “would definitely be their commitment to the team and to the coaches and the program.”
Hall retained all of his players from the first practice to the final victory.
On offense, Hall said, the leader was senior tailback DJ Edler, who finished the year with 622 yards rushing despite playing only six games because of injury.
Hall said the defensive leader was senior Dean Elias, who had 89 tackles.
The new team had a positive effect on the Pace community, Palmerton said. Each game attracted more than 1,200 fans to the school’s new Riverview Road athletic complex, which is about six miles from the Buckhead campus.
“It was just exceptional to see the support from our community,” Palmerton said. “The fan and alumni support was outstanding, and I’m incredibly happy for Pace.”
The fledging team played home games at a new lighted field with 800 seats, representing Phase 1 of the $23 million Riverview complex. In 2010 when construction is complete, the Knights will have a 2,600-seat stadium.
Until then, the football team has a lot to learn, Palmerton said. Pace added middle school football just two years ago and a junior varsity last year, so many players are still new to the game.
“Obviously, they’ve got to increase their skills in every position,” Palmerton said. “There’s no doubt about that, and they know that.”
Next season he hopes the team will get “deeper into Coach Hall’s offense and learn better defensive techniques.”
Hall said the team is gearing up for 2009. Much of the team plays winter and spring sports, so they are continuing their lifting program. Football workouts, consisting of speed conditioning and weightlifting, will follow the end of the spring sports season.
“We need to get bigger and stronger,” Hall said. “As we made the adjustment to varsity football, the one area that we struggled with the most was our ability to be competitive on the line of scrimmage. We need to dedicate ourselves to the weight room and become a little bit more of a physical football team. That is going to be our one focus this off-season.”