By the time the dust had settled on the rain-soaked field at Charlotte Christian on Nov. 15, the Knights had capped off a perfect season with their second consecutive N.C. Independent Schools State Championship, this time with a convincing 48-10 win rival over Charlotte Latin.
Along the way, the Knights (12-0, 5-0) overcame injuries to key players and the sometimes daunting expectations that come with being the team on top of the private-school football landscape with so many individual stars lining its roster.
But it never was about that, according to coach Jason Estep.
“These guys are special,” Estep said. “I think the special thing about them is that their desire to be the best started last year, and their appetite to get better was every week. It’s a breath of fresh air when you don’t have to worry about motivation each week, you just have to worry about execution, that’s really all we did.”
And boy did the Knights execute.
Sophomore running back Elijah Deveaux broke the Knights’ single-season rushing record (1,856 yards, 24 touchdowns) after earning a school-record 308 yards on 33 carries and scoring four touchdowns in the finale.
Senior receiver Bo Hines led the team with seven receptions, 130 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Ryan Gilmartin led Charlotte Christian with eight tackles and was one of four Knights to record a sack on a night when the entire defense relentlessly pressured the Hawks into making quick decisions and mistakes.
Senior defensive backs Adam Durden and David Hogan were among the four starting defensive backs to record an interception, and the list goes on.
“It feels great,” said Hines, an N.C. State commit. “The No. 1 goal at the beginning of the year was to win the state championship over all of the individual goals, winning a conference championship or anything. To do it 12-0 in this kind of fashion is great.
“I’m most proud of the humbleness of the team. We have guys going to big-time programs like Georgia and it was never about them, it was about the team, and that’s an awesome thing.”
The Knights began the season with a swirl of expectations with a team featuring big-time college recruits such as Hanes and Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State), Jeb Blazevich (Georgia), Jean-Luc Cerza-Lanaux (Charlotte 49ers) and a host of guys who are on college coach’s radars including Deveaux, Austin Kendall, Jaylon McClinton, Brian Chaffin, Dalton Gouveia, CJ Nash and many more.
With all of their individual talent, the Knights wasted little time proving they were an even stronger team. In the season opener, they jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead over Union County public school power Sun Valley and they never looked back.
“I’m proud of our team accomplishing our goals,” Deveaux said. “Our coaches have been preaching all year that we put in the work and we did that. It’s such a great feeling right now, we have accomplished everything we wanted to and we did it the way we wanted to do it.”
Aside from a one-point win over Virginia’s Liberty Christian in September, the Knights steamrolled everyone they faced – winning each game by at least nine points and 10 of their 12 matchups by 22 or more points.
In the beginning of the year, Estep said his biggest fear was living up to expectations, but as he sat on the field with rain falling all around him and his clothes soaked in Gatorade after a wild team celebration, all that his team was able to accomplish was finally able to set in.
“I’m tickled to death with the staff we have and the guys we have on this team,” Estep said. “I’m proud of the kind of young men these guys are. You can throw the rings out the window, but with these 18 seniors and the guys we have it’s going to be hard to walk out of the locker room tonight knowing some of these guys won’t put these pads on again.
“You can take two state championships and 19 straight wins and it’s great, but these dudes – these are good kids.”