Knights shake hands with Spartans after a playoff loss to GAC. photo: Fred Assaf
Knights shake hands with the Spartans after a playoff loss to GAC. Photo: Fred Assaf

The Pace Academy Knights’ football season concluded in a close battle against the Spartans of GAC on Nov. 11. Despite having the smallest high school enrollment in class AAA, the Knights finished with a winning record both in the region (4-3) and overall (6-5). The Knights played fierce competition, including Thomson (#4, AAAA), Greater Atlanta Christian School (#2, AAA), Cedar Grove (#8, AAA), Westminster (#9, AAA) and Lovett (#12, AAA).

Despite a commendable season, Pace failed to live up to the high expectations put forth by high school football fans statewide. Maxpreps: High School Sports had the Knights ranked as the #4 team in the state of Georgia regardless of classification in the preseason and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution had the Knights at #1 in AAA after week one.

Pace bids farewell to six seniors: Trey Blount, Deon Jackson, Jordan Payne, Justin Rayman, Mark Sommerville and Andrew Thomas. The Knights now look ahead to the class of 2018 which will include ten seniors. “Pace football has been very special to me,” said Justin. “Playing all six years has taught me what it is like to be a true teammate throughout all circumstances. I went from a winless season in seventh grade to winning a state championship my junior year, which was an incredible process.”

“We played a lot of young kids this year and the experience they gained will lay a strong foundation for next year,” said wide receiver coach and Assistant Dean of Students Joe Sandoe. “Depth was definitely something we struggled with this season.” Pace will be back next season with 14 returning starters and an impressive and mature senior class. But the Knights have big shoes to fill as Andrew, Trey and Deon have already committed to major Division I programs and Jordan and Mark were both vital defensive starters.

Football players are already training for showcases, 7on7 teams, camps and, most importantly, next season. Freshman Mbiti Williams and junior Realus George have received invites to the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Combine and sophomores Patrick Markwalter and Jared Rayman will compete in the Georgia Sophomore Elite Classic. Andrew, Trey and junior Jamaree Salyer were named First Team 5-AAA Offense, Realus was named First Team Defense, and Deon was named Second Team Offense.

“Going back to the playoffs for the third year in a row was probably the best part of the season,” said head coach Chris Slade. “You have to have good senior leadership. Best players are not always the leaders and that is where we lacked.”

“Next year I am going to identify the leaders even if they are younger guys,” said coach Slade. “When the best players are not the leaders that causes a lot of trouble.” Coach Slade said that good leaders are more important to him than talented players. “I think this was a learning year for the returning players,” he said. “Next year I think they will value achievement, the school, and our staff. We will focus on being bought in for Pace.”

Coach Slade is “extremely excited” for the class of 2020 and he sees parallels between those players and the class of 2015. “They are both trustworthy, reliable, accountable, and care about Pace,” he said. “They are team players and are happy to be around each other on and off the field.”