A dynasty is what some refer to when they think of the Buford High School football program. With 13 state championship titles and nearly 200 players receiving scholarships to play football in college, players move to Buford for the chance to play for such a team.
Buford has talented players year in and year out, so many players must wait in the wings for their chance to really shine. That does not mean they are not talented in their own right. Rather, they understand that they must earn their place on the field. One can be assured that a starter on a team like Buford’s has plenty of talent and has worked hard to earn that spot.
Some players may stand out more than others for various reasons, and those reasons are not always linked to their talent levels. One player may make a particular play that just happens to be captured on a week that the game is being televised or a player may have created a video that is catchier than others. Whatever the reason may be, one can never assume someone’s talent is linked to their popularity or even at times their college offers.
One only sees articles on those deemed a Super Six pick but those Super Six picks would not get there without their teammates. Those teammates can often be just as talented. The North Gwinnett Voice prefers to dig deeper and learn about more than just the top one or two players on a team.
The Class of 2022 is loaded with talent and three of those talented players are kicker Alejandro Mata, wide receiver Tobi Olawole and linebacker Nathan “Nate” Norys.
Alejandro Mata kicks the game-winning field goal in overtime during the 2020 state championship game
Senior kicker Alejandro Mata has been in many stressful situations but none more so than in the 2020 GHSA Class AAAAAA State Championship game. Buford came from behind to tie up the score with Lee County just as the game was ending, sending play into overtime. It all came down to a field goal attempt by Buford. Mata came out, lined up the kick and off he went. The kick was good and Buford won its 13th state championship title.
Mata became Buford’s starting kicker in 2020 and had to follow some significant talent in Hayden Olsen, who also won a state championship by kicking the game-winning field goal. Mata said it was intimidating and a challenge to take over for Olsen. He has been very focused and is often the last man off the field at practice as he works to perfect his craft.
“Alejandro Mata had big shoes to fill for the 2020 season (with the graduation of Hayden Olsen) and he stepped up in a big way,” Buford football’s special teams coordinator Drew Dasher said. “Mata has a work ethic that is top-notch. He works on his craft all of the time and gets the most out of his ability.”
At the age of 14, Mata was approached by one of the Lee County football coaches who asked him to try out for the team after he saw him playing soccer. Mata’s kicking abilities stood out to that coach. Since picking up the sport, Mata has become one of the best kickers around. He is outperforming other kickers who have many more years of experience under their belts.
Mata transferred to Buford from Lee County in his 10th-grade year after his father had to relocate for his job.
In Mata’s first year as a starter for Buford, he put up impressive numbers. He completed 10 of 13 field goals attempted with the longest being 48 yards and of course, he kicked the championship-winning field goal. Mata had 65 points after touchdowns or PATs, as well as 32 touchbacks on kickoff.
With a season like 2020, awards are starting to come in for Mata. He was named the Gwinnett County Touchdown Club’s Specialist of the Year and Region 8-AAAAAA Specialist of the Year award. Mata was also named Class AAAAAA First Team All-State.
After having such minimal experience as a kicker on the football team, adjusting to playing “Buford” football and having to fill Olsen’s shoes, Mata proved he was more than capable of making the big plays one needs to win championships. He has earned the respect and trust of not only his coaches and teammates but the entire Buford community.
“Everyone in our program trusts Mata and he has earned that trust by coming through in important situations and by being a leader to the other kickers in the program,” Dasher said. “I am excited to watch him during his senior season.”
Mata has a bright future ahead of him and will only get better as the season progresses. He is an excellent potential recruit for any college football program. Mata is currently uncommitted and is actively accepting college offers.
Wide receiver Tobi Olawole has shined already in Buford’s young season
Tobi Olawole is the type of player who waits patiently in the background, perfecting his craft just waiting for his moment to shine. In Buford’s season opener, the Wolves were once again paired up with North Cobb, a Class AAAAAAA powerhouse team that beat Buford last year. Buford wanted revenge and they got just that as they won 35-27.
North Cobb is a tough opponent, but Olawole and his teammates did not let last year’s defeat unsettle them for long. Olawole showed everyone, from his teammates to his coaches and even to the community, that he rightfully earned his place as a wide receiver for the Buford Wolves. He scored two touchdowns against North Cobb with his first coming from Dylan Wittke. Wittke would throw a 25-yard touchdown pass. Olawole would score his second touchdown of the game in the middle of the fourth quarter as Ashton Daniels connected with him on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
So far this season with only two games under Buford’s belt, Olawole has three receptions for a total of 44 yards and two touchdowns. Last season, Olawole did not see as much time on the field as he had only eight receptions for 54 yards. He had to compete with a handful of seniors during the 2020 season for time on the field, which resulted in his low numbers.
This year, Olawole’s time has come to show the world what he can do. He has put in countless hours of hard work on and off the field.
“Tobi is an extremely hard worker and is focused on doing whatever it takes to help our team,” Buford wide receiver coach Kyle Manley said. “He is a playmaker that can fly and (is) one of the best blocking wide receivers I have ever coached!”
Olawole has an older brother, Timi, who was on the BHS football team last year before graduating. He also has a younger brother, Tommy, who is a freshman at BHS.
He started playing football at 11 years old and said he has many fond memories of his time in the youth league. Olawole has learned from some of the best coaches around as he has come up through the Buford football league. One coach who had a significant impact on Olawole was coach David Wittke.
Track and field is Olawole’s other sport and he performs with the same intensity as he does on the football field. His best event is the 400-meter dash, where he broke the school record last year at the Gwinnett County Championships. He finished in first place with a time of 48.26. Olawole is looking forward to competing again this year in track.
Olawole plans to pursue a career in either sports medicine or health science. He has verbally committed to play for the Furman football team next fall, but he said he welcomes any additional offers that could come his way.
Nathan Norys is a versatile player on the defense and offense for Buford
Senior inside linebacker and fullback Nathan “Nate” Norys is one of those players who is selfless and spends his time putting the greater good of the team above his own agenda. He has become a leader among his fellow teammates, especially with the other inside linebackers.
Norys began playing football at the young age of 6. He began his football career playing in Mill Creek’s youth football league, where he remained until he transferred to Buford High School. A friend Norys met through playing football at Mill Creek, Will Harkness, is the reason he moved to Buford. Harkness had transferred to Buford and flourished in Buford’s football program, as well as academically. Harkness convinced Norys and his parents that he would benefit from making the move. Norys and his parents moved into the Buford city limits and he began attending Buford in the ninth grade.
One of Norys’ childhood coaches, Steve Harkness, was instrumental in shaping him into the player he is today.
“Coach Harkness has taught me how to watch film because I started watching film when I was 8 years old eating pizza at his house,” Norys said.
The Buford coaching staff said Norys has a great football IQ and in his position of inside linebacker, that knowledge comes in clutch. This allows him to assess the situation and act like a quarterback, but in the defensive setting, he’s leading those around him.
“Nate Norys is the glue in the inside linebacker room,” Buford inside linebacker coach JaHari Revies said, adding Norys isn’t afraid to do the work and leads by example as a voice for his teammates. “… everyone looks to him for his leadership.”
Buford head coach Bryant Appling has been not only his coach but a mentor and friend as well.
“I played in his position group last year and he taught me a lot about the game, studying the game,” Norys said. “Even outside, I talk to him when things go wrong. Like anywhere. If I am having problems inside my house or anything he’s always there for me. He’s a big part of my life.”
In addition to playing football, Norys is also a member of Buford’s track and field team. He started participating in the shot put event for the Wolves in his 10th-grade year but admits he wasn’t the best in his sophomore year. With hard work and really studying technique, Norys was able to make it to the state championship his junior year. He plans to return to track and field in the spring.
Norys not only works hard on the field, he works just as hard in the classroom. He has an unweighted 3.7 GPA.
Currently, Norys holds one college offer from William Penn University in Iowa. With the sportsmanship, selflessness, dedication and the high level of football knowledge he possesses, that will not be his only offer. Norys would like to take a college scholarship and turn it into a career in sports broadcasting or even give back by coaching.
Featured photo above: Kicker Alejandro Mata, wide receiver Tobi Olawole and inside linebacker Nate Norys are invaluable members of this year’s varsity football team for Buford. Photo by Alicia Couch Payne