By Nathan Berg
Chestatee’s 45-42 victory Friday over Fannin County — the first in quarterback Christian Charles’ career as a starter — was a breath of fresh air for the sophomore signal caller, especially following a disappointing result the week prior. In the Week 3 matchup at home against East Hall, Charles put together the best individual performance of his young career to that point, passing for 249 yards, rushing for 293 more and totaling six touchdowns.
But one thing was still missing: the win.
Despite his gaudy numbers, the War Eagles lost the game 56-41. Even with the stat line a player could hope for, Charles was dissatisfied with the performance.
“The win is everything,” he said. “If I need to hand the ball off 50 times to win, if I need to run it 50 times, if I need to pass it, it’s all about the team. So I’d do what I need to do to help us get a win.”
Last Friday — just one week after the shootout loss to the Vikings that sent Chestatee to 0-3 to start the season — Charles did what he needed to do.
He carried the War Eagles (1-3) over Fannin County for their first win of the season, using his legs to rush for 338 yards while finding the end zone four times on the ground. He also contributed 170 yards through the air on 16 of 24 passing. But the only numbers Charles was concerned about were 45-42 — the final score, which this time was in the War Eagles’ favor.
“He’ll be the first to tell you he’s not worried about Christian Charles’ numbers or anything like that,” Chestatee head coach Shaun Conley said. “He’s worried about what he can do to help this team win.”
Conley said Charles has had the same selfless mentality since the two first met three years ago, back when Charles was still just in eighth grade. It was Conley’s first year coaching the War Eagles, and he had heard about a middle school quarterback showing signs of growing into an elite athlete.
The following year, the young Charles would be a part of Conley’s squad, so Conley decided to go watch him play.
“You could tell right away he was a special kid,” he said.
But it wasn’t Charles’ on-field production that blew Conley away — impressive as they were. Rather, it was his attitude. “He’s got very high character,” Conley said. “He’s a great player, but he’s an even better person.”
Due to the type of person Charles was, Conley knew he wouldn’t have any problems switching the freshman to wide receiver to start his high school career. The long term plan was to put Charles behind center, but Chestatee had an experienced senior quarterback in Storm Yarbrough to call the signals in 2017.
Though still young and accustomed to touching the ball on every play, Charles was not fazed by Conley’s depth chart decisions.
“It didn’t really matter to me,” Charles said. “Just getting on the field was fun. I just wanted to do whatever I could to help my team win. So if I needed to play receiver, I played receiver.”
Charles stayed there most of the year, but when the injury bug hit Chestatee late in the season, Conley decided it would be best for the team to make the quarterback switch. Charles was placed at quarterback for the final two games in 2017.
He lost his first start against White County and then put up 30 points in a road loss against Marist — an eventual Class 4A state finalist.
In 2018, It was tough sledding for Chestatee to start the year, drawing tough matchups against North Hall and Dawson County, both of which remain undefeated as most schools begin their region schedules this week.
After the much closer loss to East Hall, Charles was ready for a win. So when the War Eagles offense fumbled the ball away to Fannin County Friday night inside the 5-yard-line, while trailing by four points with under five minutes left to play, he was not about to give up.
As he and the rest of the offensive players made their way to the sideline, his message to the entire team was a simple one.
“Just to not lose hope,” Charles recalled. “We’re still in this. We’re never out of a ball game.”
When the Chestatee defense made a fourth-down stop with a little more than two minutes left to play, Charles was ready.
“I’m just trying to stay calm, taking what the defense gives,” he said. “I’m encouraging my teammates to do what we need to do, stay focused and let’s go win.”
Charles drove the team down to the goal line, and with the less than 30 seconds to go and down 42-38, there was only one number Conley was going to call.
Charles took the quarterback keeper to the right side and into the end zone. Even in victory, he kept the focus on the team, emphasizing that, “the offensive line did a great job.” His modesty was no surprise to Conley, who remains sure Charles will remain the same humble kid he was back in eighth grade, even as his star continues to rise through his high school career.
After all, as Conley puts it best:
“He’s the ultimate team player.”