Editor’s note: The Oconee Enterprise named a football player of the year, defensive player of the year, comeback player of the year, newcomer of the year and an offensive player of the year following the season. These are based on statistics and overall impact on a team’s success during the season.
Kurt Knisely proudly sports his Athens Academy letterman jacket around campus. It’s a chilly late December afternoon. Patches commemorating the Spartans’ two Class A Private State Championship Game appearances in 2017 and 2018 perch on the sleeves of the senior.
Knisely takes pride in his school, teammates and football program. His father Kurt Knisely Sr. has coached at the school for nearly 20 years. The younger Knisely has been at the school since middle school and dreamed of representing the school for much longer.
He got his time and it lived up to what he’d envisioned. The Spartans didn’t win a state championship in Knisely’s four years on the football field, but the school has taught him to carry himself in a way that represents the very things that make Athens Academy a place that Knisely loves.
“This experience is greater than I ever imagined,” Knisely said. “I’ve spent the four best years of high school at Athens Academy and it’s been the best four years of my life. The school and playing football has been a great experience with the coaches, teachers and my teammates. The relationships we’ve built are just amazing. It means a lot. Even when I graduate, I’m still going to come back. My family has been here a long time. This place will always have a place in my heart.”
Knisely remembers the rude introduction he got to the rigorous academics he would encounter at Athens Academy. As a middle school student the first few days of school featured two hours of homework after a two-hour football practice.
It was an adjustment.
“It was a huge shock,” Knisely said. “You’ve got two hours of homework at night, you’re going to practice and then you’re getting up early. It was tough. There are people that are there to help you. I think it helps you learn time management and that helps you in the future.”
Time management was something Knisely needed on the football field. The last four years Knisely didn’t miss a single game while starting on both sides of the ball for every single game that the Spartans have played the last four years.
The Spartans relied on Knisely for a lot from nearly day one of his high school career and did so for the each of his first three seasons. In 2019, the Spartans required even more. The Spartans graduated Peyton Bowles, who had been a key part of the running game in addition to Len’Neth Whitehead.
Whitehead was injured in the Spartans’ win over Prince Avenue Christian School on Oct. 4. and missed the rest of 2019. Knisely immediately stepped in and stepped up his vocal presence as well as the amount of touches he had as the lead back for the Spartans.
Every week for the rest of the 2019 season Knisely was the leading ball carrier and the first person breaking down the team huddles prior to games.
He was the voice heard spreading the message prior to every game.
His performance has made Knisely this year’s The Oconee Enterprise Football Player of the Year.
Even with his importance and dominant performance in 2019 and the seasons prior with the Spartans Knisely has yet to sign and commit to an opportunity in college football.
Admittedly, being the underrated player is frustrating for Knisely. The uncertainty of his future is unsettling. Even in all of the uncertainty, Knisely finds himself calmed by lessons learned at Athens Academy and playing football.
“It gets frustrating because I know for myself that I’m a good player,” Knisely said. “I know I can play somewhere at a very high level. It does get frustrating. I know that I have to be patient and set my course. God has a plan for me. As frustrating as it can be, I look at myself and know I’m going to end up at the right place because I know how good I am and I know I’ve got a really good path set.”
Knisely loves the grind of football. The grind and improving is something Knisely knows that he can control. He’s made a high school football career of being prepared when the situation calls for him to step in. Knisely doesn’t know where he’ll play next football season, but he knows he will be prepared in everyway he can be.
“I’ve looked on from other people here of what to do in situations like this and just being patient and being about your business and not worrying everything else,” Knisely said. “You just focus on your craft and how you’re going to be in the future and not everyone else.”