When Malachi Mathis was thrust into the quarterback role this season, it wasn’t exactly uncharted territory.
After all, Mathis is the quarterback of Horizon Christian Academy’s defense.
Mathis, Horizon’s hybrid linebacker/safety, was already used to calling out plays and making sure his teammates are in the correct position.
“In our defense, the way we have it, I play safety but it’s more of like a linebacker spot some of the times, because we’re not the biggest team,” Mathis said, “so we have to kind of pack the line. I’d say that’s where I’m most comfortable. I kind of call the defense out there and let everybody know.”
Mathis, the 2020 Forsyth County News 8-man Defensive Player of the Year, helped guide the Warriors through their postseason run, leading them to wins over Vidalia Heritage Academy and Kings Way Christian school, then David Emanuel Academy in the GAPPS Class 1A 8-man state championship game.
On defense, Mathis led the team with 90 tackles, adding 3 ½ sacks and breaking up five passes. He picked off four passes, including one he returned for a touchdown.
“We have a bunch of people that can score really [well] and stuff. On offense, I’m just another piece of that,” Mathis said. “But on defense, I feel like it all runs through me. I’ve got to be able to put people in place. It’s not like we have an offense coordinator on defense calling the calls. I’m kind of out there making all the calls and adjusting.”
Mathis had a hand in all six of Horizon’s touchdowns in the 42-38 state championship win, perhaps none bigger than the first two.
David Emanuel raced out to a 14-0 lead, but Mathis got the Warriors on the board with TD run, then evened the score with a deep TD pass to Tanner Story.
“It just felt like the momentum shifted the whole time, and we were kind of in control and playing the pace of our game, with them playing to catch up,” Mathis said.
Mathis accounted for more than 1,100 total yards on offense, scoring 16 touchdowns for the Warriors.
“Eight-man is a high-scoring game because there are a lot of one-on-one matchups,” Mathis said. “You get a one-on-one matchup, and there’s just so much open space that if one person misses a tackle, it’s usually a touchdown. Your defensive ends, if they miss a tackle, you’re guaranteed usually at least 20 yards or a touchdown. The biggest difference is just how athletic everyone is. It’s not as much of a big game, like pound the middle as some of these teams do. You’ve got to get outside and you’ve got to spread the ball out.”
The state championship victory was the perfect end for Mathis, a three-sport athlete at Horizon.
“It was pretty awesome,” Mathis said. “I’ve been at that school my whole life, playing three sports yearround just working as hard as I can to try to win a championship. It feels pretty cool to be able to end my last season playing football on that.”