Athens Academy senior Kurt Knisely had never played a football game in which he wasn’t wearing the number nine jersey.
Friday, on senior night, he changed that. Knisely swapped jerseys with teammate and close friend Len’Neth Whitehead prior to the Spartans’ game against George Walton Academy.
Whitehead will be out of the rest of the 2019 season after suffering a foot injury in last week’s victory over Prince Avenue Christian School.
For Knisely, carrying the number four instead of his number nine onto the field on senior night was a sacrifice that was easily made.
“It was just out of respect for him, he’s been my friend ever since he got here,” Knisely said. “I just wanted to do something special for him. I just wanted to honor him by wearing his jersey.”
Knisely responded with another good individual performance carrying the ball 17 times for 146 yards and two touchdowns to help the Spartans to a 38-6 win over George Walton Academy.
Playing without Whitehead will be an adjustment moving forward for the Spartans. Friday was the first time the Spartans’ offense operated without the threat of their senior running back. Athens Academy head coach Josh Alexander doesn’t think that replacing Whitehead is the goal.
“They’ve handled it well, we love on Len’Neth (Whitehead) and he’s our guy,” Alexander said. “You don’t ever replace a player like Len’Neth, you just hope a guy gets in there and tries to fill his shoes to the best of his ability. Our guys have done a great job. They’ve embraced Len’Neth with the injury and we’re going to love on him and help him get through it. He’s going to be super successful. Our team took the challenge this week and said we’re going to rise above this and play hard.”
The Spartans’ offense leaned on Knisely’s legs in the early going on Friday but they used plenty of diversity in their attack in spreading the ball around to some emerging playmakers.
Junior quarterback Palmer Bush had a very efficient evening completing his first four passes on the night. Bush finished 9-for-13 for 133 yards and two touchdowns. Bush also ran for 22 yards and a touchdown.
Kale Anderson had a break out performance catching four passes for 80 yards and a touchdown. Anderson added 35 yards rushing to his total for the game.
Alexander has seen flashes in practice from the Madison County High School transfer.
He walked away Friday night happy to see Anderson flash his ability in a game.
“He’s been doing it in practice every day,” Alexander said. “We’ve just got to do a better job in getting all these boys the football. They’re all great talents and you don’t always have that kind of talent as a coach. You’ve got to use it while you’ve got it and enjoy it.”
Friday’s win was Alexander’s 50th career victory.
In four and a half seasons Alexander has accumulated a .877 winning percentage which gives him the highest winning percentage among active Georgia High School Association head coaches with at least 50 games coached.
Alexander is honored to reach the number. He gives the credit to the people who play for him and support the football program throughout the year.
“It’s an honor,” Alexander said. “We’ve had an opportunity to coach a lot of great players over these last five years. We’ve had a great coaching staff and that’s what makes it happen. This is a great community, we have a great head of school and we have great support across the board. None of this happens without everyone pulling the rope in the same direction. It’s been fun and I hope to keep doing it.”