The Hammond Skyhawks, 2022 SCISA AAAA Football State Champions: 1 Campbell Wall, TE/DL, Sr.; 2 Omari Bennett, WR/DB, Sr.; 3 Michael Aitchison, LB, Sr.; 4 Jacob Dunn, DL, Sr.; 5 Robert Malanuk, QB, Jr.; 6 Rucker Brannon, LB/DB, Sr.; 7 Jayson Roberts, WR/DB, Sr.; 8 Dylan Richardson, QB/K, Sr.; 9 Naeem Newton, LB, Jr.; 11 Will McQueen, DB/LB, Jr.; 12 Connor Stephens, DL, Sr.; 13 Thomas Epps, WR/DB, Sr.; 14 Charlie Allen, QB, So.; 17 Amari Evans, DB, Sr.; 18 William Hudson, TE, Jr.; 20 Zachary Schneider, DB, Jr.; 21 Landon Verano, DB/LB, Sr.; 22 Aidan Canzater, RB, Sr.; 23 Jack Croft, WR, So.; 24 Immanuel Johnson, RB, So.; 28 Manning Redd, DB, So.; 30 Jack Miller, DL, Jr.; 31 Zay Mathis, DB, So.; 33 Durham Kirk, LB, Jr.; 34 Edwin Miller, DL, Jr.; 40 Ben Kirkpatrick, DB, So.; 41 Preston Springs, DB, So.; 42 Drew McCall, LB, So.; 44 Edward Grimsley, LB, So.; 45 Brewer LaMotte, LB, So.; 51 James Lay, LB, So.; 52 Hampton Redd, OL, Jr.; 53 Cal McQueen, OL, Jr.; 54 Jackson Osborne, OL/DL, Sr.; 55 Heath Jackson, OL, Jr.; 56 Gardiner Bankhead, OL, Sr.; 57 Tanner Chastain, OL/DL, So.; 62 Emmett Sowell, OL, Jr.; 65 Thomas Young, OL, So.; 66 Ryan Barnes, OL, Jr.; 68 Franz Gimm, LB, So.; 70 Jack Fuller, DL, So.; 71 Hap Shull, LB, Sr.; 72 Jeb Berry, OL, Jr.; 79 Talinnian Byrd, DL, Sr.; 80 Noah Goddard, WR, So.; 81 Michael Tyler, WR, So.; 82 Coleman Marr, DB, Jr.; 84 William Dennis, WR, Sr.; 88 Everett Edens, WR, So.; 92 Thomas Dennis, LB, Sr.; 95 Davis Brazell, LB, So.; Coaches: Jon Wheeler (HC), Eric Wilson (OC), Jeff Barnes (RGC), Bralyn Bennett, Gene Smith, Ken Watson, Jay Frye, Austin Daniel, Wynne Thomas, and Tyler Renew; Strength & Wellness Director: Josh Ortegon; Athletic Trainer/Assistant AD: Sonya Fuemmeler; Athletic Director: Jeff Barnes; and Head of School: Andy North
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It took exactly 22 seconds to figure out how the SCISA AAAA State Championship game at Charleston Southern’s Buccaneer Field Friday, November 18, was going to go. On Hammond’s first play from scrimmage, Jayson Roberts took a reverse 57 yards to the end zone, and the Skyhawks were literally off and running en route to a 52-0 victory over the Laurence Manning Swampcats.
This was Hammond’s sixth straight state championship, and its 14th in the last 17 years and 20th overall.
Many of these Skyhawk titles have completely turned the cliché “it’s hard to beat a team twice” on its ear. Year after year, Hammond has faced a team in the championship it has previously handled during the regular season. The Skyhawks not only beat these teams again, but sometimes the second victory is more impressive than the first. Hammond downed the Swampcats 37-6 in September. Last year, the Skyhawks escaped with a hard-fought 14-0 win over Trinity Collegiate in the regular season. When they met again in the championship, Hammond proceeded to beat the Titans 48-15.
“ We have good depth, No. 1,” Hammond head coach Jon Wheeler explained. “No. 2, we have really good high school football players. Then, I have really good assistant coaches. I mean I’ve just been blessed with probably the best staff—in my opinion—in the entire state.”
Hammond athletic director and assistant football coach Jeff Barnes says they tell the kids, “Hey prepare for everything, and if anything’s thrown at you you don’t know, let’s see if we can adjust and go with that.”
Hammond’s Rucker Brannon embodies that spirit of combining talent and preparation. The senior linebacker had two interceptions in the game, including one in the third quarter that he took to the house—and to his dad who was standing behind the end zone—to give the Skyhawks’ a 38-0 lead. Brannon’s brother, Brig, also had a “pick 6” in the 2020 championship game.
Rucker said of Wheeler, “We got dudes, but so does everybody else, but you know what, his schemes–everything like that—he draws it up. He stays up at 3 a.m. on school nights when he’s got a baby at home. All the credit in the world goes to him.”
As for the game, the Skyhawks were more methodical on their next drive, which went 75 yards in nine plays. Many of those yards came on Dylan Richardson’s 15-yard pass to Omari Bennett and 30- yard pass to Michael Tyler. Richardson completed the drive with a 7-yard jet sweep to Bennett for a 14- 0 lead with 3:36 left in the first quarter.
After the Skyhawks’ next drive ended in an interception, they took a Swampcat punt and drove 54 yards to the Laurence Manning 15-yard line. They had to settle for a 31- yard field from Richardson and led 17-0 with 3:02 left in the half.
Brannon then got his first interception giving Hammond the ball at the Swampcat 25-yard line. Aidan Canzater took a handoff to the 1-yard line, and then scored on the next play for a 24-0 lead the Skyhawks took into halftime. Canzater finished with 64 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries.
Hammond fumbled away its first possession of the second half, but the Skyhawk defense forced its third three-and-out giving the offense the ball back at the Hammond 46-yard line. Laurence Manning then got a heavy dose of Immanuel Johnson as the sophomore back ran six times for 31 yards to get the ball to the 7-yard line. The teams traded holding penalties, and then Canzater scored from eight yards out for a 31-0 cushion with 3:52 left in the third quarter.
The Skyhawks made it a 38-0 game when Brannon stepped in front of Tyler June’s pass on third-and-7 from the Swampcat 38 and took it down the left sideline for the score.
Amari Evans then outmuscled a Laurence Manning receiver to grab an interception and give Hammond the ball back at the Laurence Manning 34- yard line. Richardson rolled right and dropped a bomb to Bennett in the end zone for a 45-0 lead with 10:49 left in the game.
Richardson finished with 99 yards passing and two touchdowns on 7-of- 12 attempts. He also had six carries for 49 yards and kicked the field goal along with all but one of the Skyhawks’ extra points. It’s been an amazing run for the senior who took over the job at quarterback mid-season last year after starting as a defensive back.
“No, sir,” Richardson responded after being asked if he ever thought he would lead the Skyhawks to two straight titles as their quarterback. “I always dreamed of playing quarterback. I never thought I’d play; I always thought I was too little. I didn’t think I was good enough, so it’s crazy.”
After a Laurence Manning fumble, Hammond added one more score with a 56-yard touchdown run from Johnson. Johnson finished with 120 yards and the touchdown on 12 carries.
While the offense racked up 291 yards rushing, the Hammond defense was once again the story. The Skyhawks held the Swampcats to 143 total yards and zero points. This was Hammond’s second consecutive shutout and sixth of the season.
Will McQueen led the Skyhawks with 13 tackles (two for loss), two sacks, and a fumble recovery. Brannon added eight tackles. Jacob Dunn and Connor Stephens had two sacks each, Durham Kirk had a sack and a tackle for loss, and Michael Aitchison and Landon Verano finished with five tackles apiece for Hammond.
Other than consistently suffocating defenses and dynamic offenses, what is the secret to the Skyhawks’ nearly two decades of dominance?
Barnes explains, “It’s hard work and belief. Nothing comes easy, especially when you’ve got a target on your back. The kids know that every year, and they set goals every year. Each year it gets more intense of what goals they want to achieve, and it’s always trying to one up the team the year before.
“Our parents give up their vacations in the summer for their kids to be at workouts. It’s just everybody— everybody involved with the whole program and the school from the leadership of (headmaster) Andy North all the way down to every program we have.”
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