The East Atlanta Mustangs not only recorded a winning record for the first time in their eight-year-old existence, but the team made it a doubly memorable season by also claiming its league championship.
Coached by Joe Blount and featuring players who are either home-schooled or attend Christian schools too small to field football teams, the Mustangs also enjoyed a measure of gridiron revenge en route to its first Glory For Christ League championship.
"Before this season, the most wins we'd ever had in a season was three games," said Blount, who has coached the Mustangs for the last three years. "This year, we went 7-2 in the regular season and came into the playoffs as a lower seed but beat the two teams that beat us for the championship."
East Atlanta, which includes 35 student-athletes from Conyers, Covington, McDonough, Loganville, Lithonia and Stone Mountain, captured the league title on Nov. 9 at St. Pius X High School in Atlanta with a 20-14 victory over the Anderson (S.C.) Cavaliers, which had beaten the Mustangs on Sept. 28.
Augusta Prep, which beat East Atlanta 22-15 on Oct. 5, fell to the Mustangs in the playoff semifinals by a 28-14 score.
"We were able to avenge both of our regular-season losses," Blount said. "That really made the season satisfying."In addition to East Atlanta, Augusta Prep and Anderson, the 11-team GFCL includes Freedom Academy (from Huntsville, Ala.), Georgia Force (Gwinnett County), Grace Baptist (Hiram), HSD Panthers (Douglasville), Holy Spirit Prep (Atlanta), North Atlanta Saints (Doraville), North Georgia Falcons and Skipstone Academy (Griffin).
Blount -- a standout high-school player at Edmund Burke Academy in Waynesboro who also played defensive back for four seasons at Presbyterian College in South Carolina -- said he felt his team's large senior class was the key to a championship season.
"We had 12 seniors, which helped a lot," he said. "That's the biggest class of seniors we've ever had. We had some guys who have been here for a while and some guys who just started this year, but it all clicked this season. I think this football program has finally turned the corner."
Among the Mustangs top players is running back Daniel Compton, a Covington resident, who rushed for 785 yards and 10 touchdowns and was named the team's most valuable offensive player. Other standouts include Orande Barrow of Loganville, the Mustangs' most valuable defensive player; offensive guard/defensive tackle Will Blount, who recorded five sacks this season; and quarterback Kevin Ard, whom Blount referred to as a "good field general."
"In the championship game, we were behind from the first play," said Blount. "Kevin threw a 9-yard touchdown pass with four minutes left in the game that put us ahead to stay."
Blount said he's been pleased with the progress East Atlanta has made, especially in comparison to some of the teams they face, which have full-time coaching staffs.
"We're kind of at a disadvantage, but we've gotten better," said Blount, who by day works as a market research manager for AT&T. "Some of these teams have real coaches, but I've got another day job. But after three years, the boys have gotten bigger and stronger and we coaches have started to figure things out. We've got six coaches and all are fathers of players."
Despite losing 12 seniors this year, Blount feels the Mustangs will be on the upswing in future seasons.
"I think we'll be good," said Blount, adding that 6-foot-3, 225-pound junior Devanta Adams will be a key playmaker. "Losing 12 players will be tough, but we've got some really good juniors coming back and hopefully we'll bring more talented players into the program. I feel very encouraged."
Blount also said that while he stays in contact with area schools that don't have football programs, he doesn't recruit players for the team.
"We really don't recruit, we sell the opportunity to play high-school football if you're home-schooled or are at a school without football," he said. "We offer the opportunity to play football. Once more people know about this opportunity, I think we'll have more kids want to come. And playing for championships also makes us more appealing."
For more information on the East Atlanta Mustangs, visit www.georgiafootballleague.com.