2017-06-23 / Sports

Eagles hope physicality translates to more wins in 2017

By Josh Cruse

Collyn Richarson will be asked to anchor a deep and talented offensive line for Airport in 2017. Collyn Richarson will be asked to anchor a deep and talented offensive line for Airport in 2017. Overview: There is very little mystery as to what was Airport’s undoing during the 2016 season. The Eagles posted one of the worst defensive efforts during coach Kirk Burnett’s tenure, giving up an average of 41.8 points per game and surrendering 40 or more points seven times.

From the onset, it appeared the defense would be an issue, following a 43 point output by the Airport offense only to come up four points short against Brookland-Cayce in the opener.

A senior-laden offense averaged more than 30 points per game last year, but now faces a rebuilding job after losing key players at quarterback and wide receiver.

Despite 2016’s defensive woes, the Eagles were able to manage a five-win campaign and a first round playoff win.

Quarterback: Brandon Caughman, Justin Allen

Butch Laurence takes an interception to the house against Lower Richland in 2016. Butch Laurence takes an interception to the house against Lower Richland in 2016. Near the top of the list of questions for Airport in 2017 is finding a replacement for Brett Burnett. Both Brandon Caughman and Justin Allen come from the Eagles’ baseball team, but each has experience in Kirk Burnett’s offense.

Both quarterbacks had a good spring. Burnett didn’t give any indication as to who had the upperhand heading into the summer practices, meaning the competition will go into fall camp.

Running back: Butch Laurence, Jaylen Pugh, TaJahn Phelps, Josh Goodman, Brandon Gibson, Raquan Coles

Butch Laurence burst onto the scene on the defensive side of the ball when he had an interception returned for a touchdown against Lower Richland. In 2017, Laurence may be asked to headline a deep group of running backs. Burnett said he is better at this stage in his Airport career than Keyron Richardson, who made more than his fair share of plays for the Eagles over the last few years. Along with his rushing skills, Laurence can make plays in the passing game.

Paxton Brooks adds another weapon to the Airport scoring attack with his ability to make a field goal from nearly anywhere on the opponents’ side of the field. Paxton Brooks adds another weapon to the Airport scoring attack with his ability to make a field goal from nearly anywhere on the opponents’ side of the field. Pugh looked good in the spring. The former North High School transfer will add depth to the Eagles’ backfield.

TaJahn Phelps, Josh Goodman, and Brandon Gibson all have speed, while Raquan Coles is a more than adequate fullback.

Wide Receiver: Zach Moseley, Nigel Boozer

Hit hard by graduation, the Airport wide receivers will feature a mixture of backups stepping into starting roles and running backs who can add speed in the slot.

Zach Moseley is the top returning receiver who had a good spring.

Nigel Boozer played defense last year, but so far has made a good transition to wide receiver making some good catches in the spring.

Airport head coach Kirk Burnett enters his 14th season having amassed 88 wins with the Eagles. Airport head coach Kirk Burnett enters his 14th season having amassed 88 wins with the Eagles. Offensive Line/Defensive Line: Collyn Richarson, Sean Miller, Jim Germany, Colby Key, J.C. Redmond, Hassan Ferguson, Malike Morris, Willy Riley, Malik Minor

Burnett believes this is the best group of offensive and defensive linemen he has coached during his time at Airport. He said anywhere from 10 to 12 players could see playing time in the trenches.

The group is headlined by Collyn Richarson, a three-year starter who is impressive in the weight room. He is a heavy weight lifting champion with the ability to bench 450 lbs. and squat 650 lbs.

He is one of many linemen, including Sean Miller, Jim Germany, and J.C. Redmond, who tip the scales at 300 lbs. Colby Key isn’t far behind, weighing 285 lbs.

Hassan Ferguson, Malike Morris, Willy Riley, and Malik Minor provide depth at both offensive and defensive lines.

Many of these players will play both ways.

The depth along the line of scrimmage has changed the mentality of the Airport offense, according to Burnett. He feels the Eagles can move the ball in a more physical style.

Linebacker: Tre Robinson, Devahn Robinson, Corey Rivers, J.J. Johnson

This unit could help improve the overall performance of the Airport defense. Tre Robinson comes off a year plagued with injury. Devahn Robinson, Corey Rivers, and J.J. Johnson provide options for Burnett at linebacker.

Secondary: Joe Norris, Daquan Wilson

Joe Norris has caught Burnett’s eyes with his play on the field. Daquan Wilson will also compete for a starting spot.

Burnett anticipates some offensive skill guys will fill in some of the holes left in the secondary.

Kicker/Punter: Paxton Brooks

Not many teams in South Carolina have the weapon Airport has at kicker. Paxton Brooks has the ability to change field position as a punter but also has long range in terms of field goal kicking. His performance on the field has caught the eye of many universities around the country, including Stanford whose coaches went to Airport’s campus to see Brooks in person.

Final Analysis: Burnett believes this is a different type of team in 2017. Gone are the finesse players from 2016 and in are more blue collar types.

Expect a more ground oriented attack on offense in 2017. A stable of running backs will be put to good use.

Defensively, any improvement will be welcomed. There are pieces in place with experience, but only time will tell if it pays off with better performances on the field.

The biggest challenge for Airport may be the schedule. In 2016, only four teams on the 12-game schedule had losing records; one of those teams was a 5-6 Eastside team. Airport faced five teams, including state champion South Pointe, that posted at least 10 wins.

Despite facing the same teams as a year ago, there are some changes. Brookland-Cayce faces massive losses on offense and defense. Richland Northeast has a new coach.

While the region presents its own challenges, it was the non-region that affected the final record for the Eagles. Three games were decided by one possession, Chapin, Brookland Cayce, and Orangeburg Wilkinson.

Airport hopes to post a winning record in 2017 and compete for the region title.

Key Eagles

1. The defensive back seven- The entire defensive side of the ball needs to improve drastically for Airport to have a good season. With plenty of talent along the defensive line, it appears the linebackers and secondary will be the mystery. With the schedule remaining the same as last year, each player at these two levels of the defense will be counted on early and often.

2. Justin Allen/Brandon Caughman- Burnett didn’t give any indication if either player has the upperhand in this competition as the calendar moves to the summer months. It will be imperative for one of these players to step up and provide the leadership for an offense having to replace so many skill players from 2016.

3. The offensive/defensive lines- There is a different tone in Burnett’s voice when he speaks about the players who will make up both offensive and defensive lines. He said as many as 12 players can see playing time in 2017. That depth will be necessary considering many players may see time on both lines. The leader of the group is Collyn Richarson who will have to provide leadership to the offense as well.

2016 Results

Brookland-Cayce 43-47 L
Lower Richland 42-20 W
Gilbert 7-28 L
Orangeburg Wilkinson 26-31 L
Richland Northeast 13-48 L
Midland Valley 48-43 W
Aiken 40-36 W
South Aiken 21-70 L
Chapin 34-42 L
North Augusta 37-34 W


Eastside 47-42 W
South Pointe 7-61 L

2017 Schedule

Aug. 25 at Brookland-
Sept. 1 at Lower Richland
Sept. 8 vs. Gilbert
Sept. 15 vs Orangeburg-
Sept. 22 vs. Richland
Sept. 29 vs. Midland Valley
Oct. 6 at North Augusta
Oct. 13 at Aiken
Oct. 20 vs. South AIken
Oct. 27 at Chapin

Head Coach:
Kirk Burnett
(14th season)
Overall record: 88-60

Offensive Coordinators:
Preston Deaver
Defensive Coordinator:
Trey Wallace

2016 record: 5-7
2016 playoffs: lost to
South Pointe 61-7 in the
second round of the 4A

5-year win trend
2012: 4
2013: 3
2014: 4
2015: 10
2016: 5

2016 Regular
Season Stats
Rushing offense 159.1
Passing Offense 166.9
Total Offense 326.0
Total Defense 271.6

2016 Stat Leaders
Passing: Brett Burnett,
1,472 yards
Rushing: Jamir Robinson,
819 yards
Receiving: C.J. Wright,
656 yards
Tackles: Jaylun Lloyd, 70

Points per game:
Airport: 30.4
Opponents: 41.8

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