The North Clayton Eagles can qualify for the Class AAAA postseason with a win Friday against Eastside. The Eagles can also finish outside of the playoff field with a loss to Eastside combined with wins by Salem and Luella.
So it often is in sports — one game can mean so much for a team’s entire season.
But the Eagles have already won this season, regardless of this week’s results. Behind first-year head coach Cap Burnett, “North Clayton Pride” is alive in well in College Park.
That pride was on full display last week in North Clayton’s 38-0 win over Henry County. Sure the Warhawks entered the game without a win, but the Eagles’ domination was noteworthy considering how the team has struggled in recent seasons.
James Monroe and Jaiquan Earls combined for 300 yards and five touchdowns on the ground.
Yaya Diaby and Sonny Anderson led a defensive line that recorded five sacks.
Keelin Lee rumbled for nearly 50 yards on a fake punt.
Those were just some of the highlights from North Clayton’s victory. The Eagles showed improvement in all three phases of the game which resulted in a complete and resounding victory.
And while the players on the field were the center of attention, I couldn’t help but notice what was going on in the bleachers during the contest.
Slowly but surely, North Clayton’s side of the stadium began to fill up. North Clayton alumni returned for the Homecoming game, and stuck around for the entirety of their school’s blowout victory. Former players, many of which played with Burnett back in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, could be seen grilling out before the game in the parking lot.
Friday’s game against Henry County felt like an event. As North Clayton head basketball coach Martisse Troup said to me in the press box, “this is what it always used to be like.”
Clearly, Burnett has re-infused the program with some much-needed energy. The Eagles are playing in a way that’s easy to fall in love with — hard-nosed defense, a strong running game and a never-say-die attitude.
I wonder where they got those characteristics from?
Burnett wasn’t hot-shotted the North Clayton job. He paid his dues after his playing career was cut short by injury at the University of Georgia. He spent years learning from veteran coaches, including Jonesboro’s Tim Floyd, to become as prepared as possible for this opportunity.
And boy, has he been ready. North Clayton, after winning just three games last season, has five victories, including triumphs over Druid Hills and Salem this year. The Eagles have held opponents to single-digit point totals in four of their nine games. Burnett is known for his defensive background, and it’s evident that he is able to take complex defensive tactics and explain them to his players.
Some unions are slam dunks, while others just make no sense. Burnett’s appointment as North Clayton’s head coach was as good of a hire as we’ve seen in Clayton county in quite some time. He loves his Alma Mater, the community, and by the way, is a heck of a football coach, too.
“It was so surreal for me that I couldn’t do anything but smile the whole time. It’s such a privilege to be back somewhere that you helped build,” said Burnett when he was hired. “Now that I’m back in the head spot, I want to bring back and show the kids today the traditions that we were shown at their age.”
It’s only been one season, but Burnett has done just that. The North Clayton Eagles aren’t “back” just yet, but they are definitely ahead of schedule.