The Crown Athletics football team played to an 8-2 regular-season record before adding another win last week in the first round of the Glory for Christ League state playoffs.
The Knights, a home-school program based out of Woodstock, have drawn recognition beyond the surrounding counties. Following last week’s 17-14 victory over the East Atlanta Mustangs, Crown moved up to No. 6 in a national home-school football poll.
The Knights have outscored opponents by a 396-144 margin over the course of the season, and the success tells coach Chip Buhler that even better things are to come for his young team.
A year ago, Crown finished with a program-best 11-1 record. It went undefeated in the regular season before being tripped up in the second round of the playoffs.
This year’s team has the chance to finish 11-2, should it win the state title, which Buhler thinks is a distinct possibly.
The Knights are young after graduating 20 players from last year’s team. While the number might not be significant to some programs, it is for a team that only dresses out between 25 and 30 players. For the playoffs, Crown has brought up a few players from its junior varsity team, and the roster now stands at 30.
What’s more, because they are home-schooled, many of the players are young for their class. For example, one senior on this year’s team is only 15 years old.
“We are very excited about our guys this year, but many of them are so young,” Buhler said. “Many of our seniors that are playing, it’s their first year starting on our varsity, so it’s really about an inexperienced team that has really done well.”
There are just three veteran players on the Knights’ offense, and five on defense. Many of the team’s two-way starters are sophomore and juniors.
The team is captained by two seniors, Sam Buhler — one of the coach’s two sons on the team — and Justin Barnett. Buhler and Barnett have played together for Crown since their middle school days, and both play multiple positions on offense and defense.
Other seniors, such as kicker A.J. Redlinger, are starting for the first time, or are even playing football for the first time in several years. Redlinger has taken to the position well, and according to Chip Buhler, has what it takes to play at the next level.
“A.J. is one of the best kickers I have ever seen, and he never kicked a football before July of this year,” Buhler said. “He is the best kicker in our league.”
What’s more is that Redlinger, who is also a soccer player, has rarely practiced at a field with goalposts, but he routinely makes his field goal attempts in game situations. He spends a little more than 30 minutes a week working with the Crown team.
“He has been a tremendous asset,” Buhler said.
Senior defenders Brady Warren and Jordan Roberts have also been key. Warren, who had never before played varsity football, leads the team in tackles. Roberts, the team’s top lineman, had been a part of the Crown program for three seasons, but did not take the field until this year.
“We have had a few of these seniors that didn’t play before that have become leaders on our team, and some of our best players,” Buhler said. “Then, some of the older leaders that have returned have really carried a lot of weight and responsibility.”
After that, the team begins to show its youth.
Quarterback Hamilton Armour, who is averaging 145.6 yards passing per game, is a junior in his first year with the varsity team. There are five two-way players, including sophomore Simeon Buhler, the coach’s other son. He is second in the team in tackles and leads the team in forced turnovers and touchdowns.
Other key underclassmen include junior John Emmons, sophomore Daniel Matteson and Jesse Hurt.
“These guys stay on the field full-time — offense, defense, and special teams,” Buhler said. “With the new seniors really stepping up, and these young players, we have ended up with a good team.”
Crown has also navigated injury at times. In its first loss of the season, it was missing eight players. The Knights were unable to hold contact practices because, if any more players went down, they would have to forfeit.
Still, they pressed on.
“They want to be out there,” Chip Buhler said. “They want to play.”
If Crown wins Saturday’s semifinal against Augusta Prep — a neutral-site game at St. Pius X Catholic High School in Atlanta — it will play one more game for the state title one week later.
That, however, isn’t the ultimate goal for the Knights.
“We want to get some of these guys to college,” Buhler said. “They have the talent to play. We just have to get the word out on that.”