Top-ranked Buford boys eye 1st title

Wolves, semifinalists last year, off to 12-0 start

The Buford Wolves are eying a deep playoff run with a first-year coach in Tyler Botts. He isn’t new to the program, however, having served as an assistant on Kevin Peek’s staff the past three seasons. Ahead of this year, Peek, who is nearing retirement, and Botts switched roles, and now Peek is the assistant.

“He wanted a less stressful, reduced role to enjoy his final seasons without the pressure of being the head coach,” Botts said. “He’s smiling more, and he’s having fun.”

Regardless of the arrangement, Botts and Peek are a successful tandem at Buford. Botts has the Wolves off to a 12-0 start, 5-0 in Area 4-7A, good for a No. 1 ranking in the highest classification. Last year, they came within a goal of reaching the championship, losing 11-10 to eventual champions and region rivals West Forsyth.

This season, Botts is relying heavily on his senior class, led by attacks Evan Leonardo and Matthew Scruggs, and midfielders Noah Steinbrecker and Fritz Whalen.

“Evan and Mathew were all-state first-teamers last year,” said Botts, “and Noah and Fritz do all the stuff that doesn’t show up on the stat sheets.”

Other key players include sophomore attack Kamden Clack and Jacob Olivo, a senior attack who hasn’t played since freshman year after taking two seasons off. The defense is led by seniors Max Peek, Jaydon Franklin and Jackson Maloney, and junior Sam Harkness.

Clack leads the team with 38 goals, followed by Leonardo (34) and Olivo (30). Leonardo leads the team in assists with 25, followed by Clack (17) and Scruggs (16). Austin Hurd, a junior, is 158-of-256 as a face-off specialist, good for a 61-percent win percentage.

The Wolves got a big save at goal from junior Zachary Oliver, who filled in for injured starting sophomore Matthew McCoy for the first 10 games of the season. Oliver had never played goalkeeper heading into the season.

“Zach was instrumental to our success during the first part of the season,” Botts said. “Without him stepping up, I don’t know what would’ve happened, except we wouldn’t be 12-0.”ß

Botts said he utilizes some of what he learned from his first head coaching gig at Peachtree Ridge, and he’s also learned from Peek and Wolves football coach Bryant Appling — Botts is a member of Appling’s coaching staff.

“I learned a lot while I was younger at Peachtree Ridge,” Botts said. “Here, I came in and tried to learn from coach App and Coack Peek, and there’s a whole new way to approach this thing here. It’s fun to see how they’ve built their programs up. I want to continue what Peek has done, and make sure we’re tough, hard-nosed and doing the little things the right way, and to leave this program better than I found it.

“Everyday in practice, we do something hard, because if it’s easy, you don’t grow. That’s something I had maybe not done as well as I could have at the last school. I’m always pressing them. We’re not always going to be successful, but we’ll find success in hard times, and that’s been a really good thing. We’re not necessarily counting the number of goals scored as success. Sometimes we don’t necessarily need to to score, or maybe we don’t score as many as we should, but we’re going to play hard. That’s something you can put on video and you can see it. We practice hard all the time.”

The Wolves play in 7A’s best area, Area 4, which sent all of its playoff teams to the semifinals last year. Area 4 has five teams in the top 10 currently: No. 1 Buford, No. 4 Lambert, No. 5 West Forsyth, No. 8 South Forsyth and No. 9 Mill Creek. Buford hosts Lambert (9-2, 4-0) on Friday, and they’ve already beaten Mill Creek, 13-3 on March 13.

They’ve also beat No. 3 Walton 13-9 and A-4A’s No. 5 Starr’s Mill 12-8, and No. 9 Hebron Christian 17-10.

In addition to Lambert, the Wolves’ remaining games against ranked teams are 5A-6A’s No. 7 Cambridge (March 28), West Forsyth (April 12) and South Forsyth (April 16).

Botts spoke to the team’s tough schedule.

“I believe we play in the toughest area in the state,” he said. “If you look at the Final Four last year, all were from Area 4. You’ve got to set up an early schedule with good teams to get ready for that. That’s what Peek did the last few years, and I took that blue print.”

Botts said the team is still getting better, with room for improvement and growth. The plan is to take a step-by-step approach while keeping the ultimate goal of a championship in mind.

“First, we just want to go 1-0 every day,” Botts said. “Really, we’d like to win our area, because that sets you up mentally for going into the playoffs with the mindset that we can beat anyone. The ultimate goal is state, but we’re not putting all our eggs in one basket because if you do, that’s a lot of pressure. So, we’re taking it one day at a time and hopefully the rest will take care of itself.”