In this day and age, it’s extremely rare for children to remain with the same group of friends and peers throughout their adolescent years. A small group of senior football players is part of that elite group that can say they have grown up on and off the field with the same group of young men. This elite group of young men can be referred to as lifetimers, having played together since they were 6 years old all the way to their senior year.
At Buford, traditions and longtime friendships are valued and celebrated. Buford seniors Caleb Archer, Malik Cunningham, Carson Garrison, Jake Hill, TJ Lowe and Mason McCranie have formed a special bond and friendships that will last a lifetime.
The boys started out under Coach Charles Perry when they were just 6 years old. A father of one of the boys took over the coaching position from age 7 until they were 13. That man was Caleb Archer’s father, Brian Archer. Caleb said his father made the biggest impact on his career.
“He has always been my biggest support and always been someone who has helped me improve,” Caleb said.
The boys recalled their early years on the football field as being rough, but the boys stuck together and persevered. That perseverance paid off when they had an upset win and made the playoffs for the first time in the seventh grade. It’s been the hard times that really forged this group of seniors. Another level of trust and respect was formed.
“My friendship with all of them is like a brotherhood,” Caleb said. “Yes, we are like brothers on and off the field.”
Despite often being on the losing end growing up, they never gave up on each other. They believed in the bigger picture and each other. They knew what it was like to be the underdog and had been forged in the battles long before last December rolled around. It was a whirlwind of a postseason that took the Buford Wolves on a journey around the state in hopes of making it to Atlanta and the State Championship game. The Wolves had narrow victories in a couple of their games on the road to state. They were the sort of games that most would have given up hope on, but not Buford and this group of players.
“My most memorable high school career moment was seeing the game-winning kick go through the uprights to beat Warner Robins to win the State Championship my junior year,” Mason said. “There was no better feeling than running into the massive mosh pit of my teammates as they swarmed the field.”
Now, this group of teammates and friends take the field as seniors. They are now in leadership roles, roles they once looked up to.
Carson recounted growing up watching Buford play every Friday night and looking up to the players when he was young.
“It feels special to be one of the players,” he said.
When asked what it is like to take the field as seniors, Malik said, “It’s a feeling of pride. Not a lot of people can say they have played Buford Football from first grade to twelfth grade. To be on the field as a senior makes me feel proud that I have been able to represent my school for all these years.”
There have been so many people who have impacted this group along the way and countless lessons learned. This group has learned the value of hard work, never giving up even in the worst of situations, what it means to have good character and what being part of something greater than yourself means.
They feel honored to represent the Kelly green and gold. It’s about the history and traditions of those that came before them.
“It means Buford,” said TJ. “I take lots of pride wearing Kelly green and gold on and off the field representing Buford.”
“It means everything to me,” Malik said. “I was born and raised in Buford. My dad and mom were born and raised in Buford. To get to play for the school that my dad played football and ran track for and that my mom cheered for means everything to me.”
Mason and Caleb also have mothers who graduated from Buford. Their roots run deep and are definitely green and gold.
Nothing can compare to the bond that these boys share. They will be taking the field this year — their last — and they look back on the ride.
“It is a bittersweet feeling knowing that as I walk onto the field my dreams are becoming reality,” Mason said, “but it is my last ride as a Buford Wolf.”