North Clayton football still growing entering Cap Burnett’s second season

A year after taking the North Clayton Eagles to the postseason for the first time since 2011, head coach Cap Burnett and his coaching staff will be tasked with replacing 18 seniors. (File Photo)

COLLEGE PARK — Cap Burnett’s first year as head coach of his alma mater, North Clayton High School, was a successful one. The Eagles advanced to the state playoffs for the first time since 2011 last season.

At the forefront of that success was a strong senior class, led by All-County selections Christopher Mitchell, Yaya Diaby, James Monroe, Jaiquan Earls, Anthony King and Rayvon Kee. In all, 18 seniors will need to replaced this season.

“The coaches, you know, know the expectations this year. We had more coaches out for spring this year,” Burnett said. “The numbers were bigger. The difference, now, we’re going to be young this year. We graduated 18 seniors and we only had 38 on the team last year, so around 20 coming back. The majority of the guys (this spring) were the 8th graders and upcoming 9th graders and stuff like that.

“But overall, even with us being young, there was a great feel,” he continued. “I felt like the boys, the ones who came back, knew the expectations and continued to build off of some of the things we did last year.”

Last season, North Clayton relied on a stingy defense to remain in games. The Eagles’ offense struggled to score points at times, and with the departures of leading rushers Monroe and Earls, consistency on the offensive end has been a focus for Burnett and his coaching staff during the offseason.

To improve offensively, the Eagles will utilize variations of the Wing-T this season. Burnett said that he and his offensive coaches came to this conclusion after evaluating the personnel on this year’s squad. During spring practice, North Clayton used all 10 days to implement the new scheme, and Burnett said he was pleased with the early results.

“The offensive unit, for them picking up in what, we had 10 days of practice time, the way they came out to practice every day and picked up the offense,” Burnett said regarding what position group pleased him the most this spring. “Of course we’re still learning it because it’s new, but the way they came in and attacked it, it let me know the mentality we had last year, they brought it over into this year.”

Burnett said he’s also seen growth in the program’s off-the-field initiatives, such as character development while working with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“The kids see some of the things, it’s more so to what we’re doing outside of football and the things we’re trying to incorporate building their character and things of that nature,” he said. “A lot of the kids are starting to get drawn to that and they want to be part of that part of it. Football is football wherever you go because it’s a game. It’s a game and that’s exactly what it is.

“But it’s the things you do within a program,” he continued. “When I say rebuilding the program I don’t want to put a damper on anyone that was here before me. It’s just rebuilding the program through me, through myself and how I coach. It’s a new era, not trying to say what was done before me was bad, but I just think the way we’re doing things, the kids will want to be a part of it and a lot of it is outside of football itself.”

Burnett himself admitted to being more comfortable heading into this season. He is no longer running from Rex Middle School to North Clayton for workouts and practices. He is in the building, acting as a PE coach during school hours.

And as year two is beginning, Burnett has a simple goal, which is summed up perfectly by the program’s newest inspirational phrase “BALLIN,” or “Be All In.”

“The biggest thing is to see the kids operate within a program the way they are supposed to — being accountable and reliable,” Burnett said. “That’s our biggest thing going into this second year. I told them at the beginning of the spring, I’m not really looking for guys to come out just to put uniforms and shoulder pads on, I’m looking for guys who I can rely on. I want you to be able to rely on me. If we’re all reliable, we’ll be able to do good things.”

Luke Strickland is the sports editor of the Clayton News in Jonesboro and the Henry Herald in McDonough. He went to school at the University of Georgia.

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