COLLEGE PARK — When Cap Burnett mans the sideline for his first game as the head coach of the North Clayton Eagles football team next season, it won’t just be another game.
Burnett, who was a standout with the Eagles during his high school career in the late 1990s, will be fulfilling a lifelong dream.
“When the North Clayton job opened up, I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw it on the Clayton County website,” said Burnett. “I jumped on it and set it in the interview. 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…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.”
Burnett’s list of accolades while playing at North Clayton is a mile long. He was a USA Today All-USA Honorable Mention, an All-State selection by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Georgia Sports Writers Association, a Super Southern 100 and Top 50 in Georgia selection by the AJC and Defensive Player of the Year choice by the Clayton News and South Fulton Extra.
Looking at Burnett’s body of work, those awards are easy to understand. As a senior in 1997, he recorded 147 total tackles, seven interceptions and two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
Those numbers were enough to earn him a scholarship to the University of Georgia, where Burnett recorded 34 tackles and two interceptions in two seasons. Unfortunately, Burnett’s playing career was cut short due to a series of concussions.
Burnett acknowledged being “depressed” that his playing career had come to a premature end, but quickly moved into a coaching career with the help of former North Clayton head coach Don Shockley.
“I jumped on it ASAP,” said Burnett. “It was a privilege for him to even think of me to come back and be a part of the program.”
Burnett learned plenty under Shockley, even volunteering his time for no pay in his first season. He’s also coached at Jonesboro High School since his playing days ended, including on last year’s staff that won the Region 4-AAAA championship and advanced to the Elite Eight.
Burnett said that being able to learn from Jonesboro head coach Tim Floyd prepared him to become a head coach. Floyd is known for his ability to mentor young student-athletes just as much as he is known for his football philosophies, a trait Burnett hopes to replicate at North Clayton.
“I saw the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and character education every Monday and how it was paying off,” said Burnett. “We weren’t talking about X’s and O’s or winning. I just saw the boys and their mentality and how I even started thinking and coaching differently. I was still aggressive, but it changed so much because he showed me a different way to it.
“I want to bring that style with me,” Burnett added. “Everybody that knows him knows he’s an awesome guy. It’s not like co-workers or coaches on the staff. I really look at him like a family member because he’s cared for me and mentored me from day one.”
Burnett believes that his history at North Clayton will help him better reach the student-athletes he’ll be working with.
“Anybody coming back to a community that they grew up in I honestly do believe has a leg up,” he said. “Not that the coaches before me weren’t good enough or wrong or whatever, it’s just the point that I grew up right there in the community and experienced the things the student body is going through on a day to day basis. Regardless of what it is, I’ve been there and done that.”
Burnett said he’ll run a 3-4 defense that’s capable of checking into multiple fronts. On offense, he said he’s partial to the multiple spread look. Burnett is also an advocate for the importance of special teams.
“I’m big on special teams,” he said. “They can win games for you. If you can’t play special teams, you can’t be on our defense or offense.”
Since being hired, Burnett has had plenty of time to reminisce about past conversations he and his late father had regarding his coaching future.
“It hasn’t really hit me because my dad passed in August, but that’s something that he and I talked about for so many years,” said Burnett. “He always put in my mind that one day I would be in this position. He supported me in everything I did in my football and coaching career. Every time I step inside North Clayton, I look up and say ‘dad you told me.’ I don’t want to say that I felt like I was always going to get here, but he put it in me so much that I would get here and I’m here now.
“It’s truly a blessing,” he added. “I thank God everyday I get the blue back on.”
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