If there is a weakness on the Charlotte Christian football team this season, it hasn’t appeared yet as the Knights enter their bye week with a 3-0 record and an additional seven days to get even stronger and healthier.
The Knights are the reigning N.C. Independent Schools champions. And with a roster loaded with next-level talent, they feel they have a pretty good shot to earn the first back-to-back championships in school history.
With all of the weapons at Knights coach Jason Estep’s disposal, he said he isn’t sure what it will take to knock his team from atop the private-school rankings – but it won’t be either a lack of confidence or talent.
“We can throw it, we have some guys who can catch it and we feel good that we can run it pretty well, too,” Estep said.
The latter is primarily in the hands of a pair of sophomores: quarterback Austin Kendall and running back Elijah Deveaux.
Kendall transferred this season from Cuthbertson, bringing a sense of toughness to the offense with his running and passing ability. The offense is further aided by BCS recruits at tight end with Jeb Blazevich (Georgia) and Garrett Bradbury (N.C. State), and at wide receiver with Bo Hines (N.C. State).
But to date, maybe no player has had more of an impact than Deveaux – a 6-foot-1, 185-pound power back as capable at running through defenses as he is running around them. Ever since he got his first taste of what it felt like to break through the crowd and into the end zone, Deveaux has been terrifying defenses pressed with trying to stop him.
“When I scored my first touchdown in flag football, even when I was young, that feeling was just like, ‘Jeez, this is amazing,’ Deveaux said. “It was something I wanted to keep doing for sure.”
Deveaux served as an apprentice to former Knight and current North Carolina Tar Heel Dez Lawrence last season (his first at Christian after transferring from Marvin Ridge), and ran for 340 yards and four touchdowns in limited duty.
But this season, with the ball in his hands roughly one in every three offensive snaps, Deveaux is the backbone of the Knights’ impressive attack. Matching the expectancies of being the feature back on one of the state’s most dynamic offenses, Deveaux has been dazzling with 337 yards and eight touchdowns on 49 carries through three games.
Estep expects even more will come as the season continues and the games get tougher and more meaningful.
“I think it’s easier for him when you prepare all off season for that role,” Estep said. “I told him in the post-season meeting that he was going to be the guy that picks up where Dez left off, and our goal is to give it to him 15 to 25 times depending on how (defenses) try to defend us.”
With all of the weapons surrounding Deveaux and the offense, it’s a pick-your-poison situation for defenders. With a wealth of offensive options, the Knights have outscored their opponent 91-6 over the past two weeks.
“It makes it hard for the other team … when they don’t know what (they’re) getting, and that helps us,” Deveaux said. “We can get it to Bradbury or Jeb, get Bo out wide or get Austin out on the boot, and I can run it, too.”
And, despite all of the playmakers in the Christian passing game, Estep knows first hand that championship football comes down to being able to stop the run on defense and running the ball on offense – something Deveaux has done to near perfection this season.
“We want to run the football in a downhill manner,” Estep said. “We’re not a side-to-side team, we want to run the ball downhill, which he does well and he’s got great vision, which is his best asset in the running game.
“Elijah sees things sometimes before they develop, he can cut on a dime and he has the ability to put his foot on the ground and get back to full speed pretty
The speed, vision and quickness are what led to a phone call in Estep’s office last season from the Mississippi State coaching staff. They were so enamored with Deveaux’s talents that they offered a scholarship to the then-rising sophomore without seeing him in person and before he started a single varsity game.
Although the Bulldogs are his only official offer, more are coming as Alabama, Georgia, Colorado, North Carolina, Michigan, Clemson and Pittsburgh are among the teams already interested in the sophomore’s services.
Despite all the attention he’s receiving, Estep hasn’t seen any changes in Deveaux.
“He handles it well,” Estep said. “He has a very solid family and a lot of it is from the way he was brought up, and all I have to do is just reiterate it.”
It helps that ever since Deveaux can remember, he’s been around football fields picking up the nuances and subtleties of the game.
His uncle, Everett, played tailback for Florida State in the late 1970s and his father, Glenn, played running back at the University of Pittsburgh and later for the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks in the mid 1990s.
“The biggest thing they taught me was it takes a lot hard work,” Deveaux said. “Football is a game and a tool to get you through school, but you have to have something to fall back on. They taught me to stay on top of (my school work) because that’s more important than football.”
While Deveaux is focusing on academics, he’s also a student of the game – something that’s helped him in his first season as the Knights’ primary ball carrier.
“The game has slowed down some because I’m better able to read the defenses,” he said. “I can tell the weak sports, see where the linebackers are, if they’re in a 4-3 or whatever. You see things like that and it kind of makes it easier to get where you want to go.”
And, Deveaux said, his focus is solely on getting Christian their second consecutive title.
“Everyday we have to give it 100 percent and we can’t take any days or any plays off,” he said. “Winning it last year, we have a target on our back and we have everyone coming for us, so we have to work.”
Deveaux isn’t about to stop working because of his NFL bloodlines or his scholarship offer to a Southeastern Conference school or because he’s the leading rusher on arguably the state’s most talented private-school team.
For Deveaux, this is merely the starting point.
“I was lucky enough to have a father who played in the NFL, so ever since I was young I’ve been watching games and learning about the game,” Deveaux said. “I learned a ton from all of the guys I’ve met here on how to carry yourself, how to go about every day of practice and how to go 100 percent every play and that’s what I’m going to do.
“We want to win a state championship and that’s all I’m focused on right now.”