Athens Academy senior Kurt Knisely is the ultimate team player.
It sounds cliché and maybe it is. The big plays Knisely made on the Spartans’ way to the Class A Private State Championship game on a broken ankle, a hernia as well the black eye he currently sports around campus after being poked in the eye against Stephens County High School three weeks ago make him worthy of the title.
Knisely has played and started every game for the Spartans the last four seasons. Knisely plays fullback, running back, linebacker, safety, he returns kicks and he is on almost every Spartans’ special team unit. His stats rarely make the paper and he rarely gets the press clippings for his work. He hasn’t been given stars next to his name on the multiple recruiting sites. Knisely isn’t the most imposing presence in the Spartans’ backfield or linebacker corp.
“It’s tough being the one that’s overlooked,” Knisely said. “I know for myself that I have to be patient and my time will come. This is not the Kurt Knisely Spartans, this is the Athens Academy Spartans. It’s always great for other guys to get recognition because it also brings recognition to the team and that makes our team better.”
Even still, Knisely is one of the Spartans’ most important players. Not because he carries the ball 30 times a game or scores five touchdowns or makes 15 tackles, but because he’s reliable and he gives his team everything he has no matter what.
“He’s done it for the last four years,” Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander said. “It’s been Len’Neth Whitehead or it’s been another kid this. Kurt (Knisely) has started every football game since he was a ninth grader and has played hurt, beat up and he’s played with multiple injuries. Every week he comes out and produces. It’s fun to watch. He’s everything right about the game of football in our school.”
Winning is worth the pain he’s endured over the last few seasons. Knisely isn’t the type of person that likes letting his teammates down. Every chance he gets, Knisely wants to be on the field, even if it means making the sacrifice of comfort to do it.
“I’d do it all over again,” Knisely said. “I’d play with every injury there is. I’d play without my right arm to see the reward. That’s just how bad we want it. I think that’s a key part about our team is being tough.”
In the first Backyard Brawl last season Knisely caught a screen pass and sprang for an 18-yard game-winning touchdown to help the Spartans hold off the Wolverines with less than a minute remaining in the contest.
To many, that should and would be their biggest high school football memory. Not many former high school athletes can say they scored a walk-off touchdown against a cross-town rival.
That’s not who Knisely is. His score in last season’s Backyard Brawl is probably only his second (for now) favorite memory from the rivalry game alone.
Knisely’s best memory of playing against PACS is celebrating on the field in December after the Spartans defeated the Wolverines to advance to their second straight Class A Private state title appearance.
“That was a big one, it was the winning touchdown, but I think celebrating knowing we were going to the Benz after the second one was a really big one,” Knisely said. “Being around the whole team was great. It wasn’t necessarily focused on Kurt’s winning touchdown, it was Athens Academy going to the Benz, which was really nice.”
Knisely’s unselfishness and sacrifices over the last three years hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates. Fellow senior Whitehead has run behind Knisely for the last three seasons. Whitehead admits that a lot of the games the Spartans have won on his legs happened because of the blocks thrown by Knisely.
“He’s a beast,” Whitehead said. “Any team that scouts us is going to say that fullback comes down hard and he’s going to fill the gap and he’s going to block or that outside linebacker covers and he might not be the guy you want to throw toward. I feel like he’s respected in that aspect but he doesn’t get the attention that he deserves... I really can’t think of anybody else I’d have blocking for me. We’ve won countless games because of him. Anytime we’ve run straight ‘I’ formations coming downhill, you can pretty much put it on him.”