By Thomas Grant Jr.
The midway point of the season has arrived and the residents at the Eagles Nest are flying high.
Under first-year head coach Shane Fidler, Airport High School football is enjoying its best start since 2015. That year, the Eagles won their first nine games and finished 11-2.
Currently, Airport has a 4-1 record. The four wins match the Eagles’ combined victory total the past two seasons, and their early showing has earned them votes in the Class 4A South Carolina Prep Football Media poll.
“Obviously, I don’t think many people believed we could be 4-1 at this point,” Fidler said. “But as we said in the post-game huddle the other night – the people in our locker room believe in us. We also aren’t even close to playing our best football at this point. There are so many mistakes to clean up if we want to keep producing throughout the season.”
Before embarking on the second season of region play, Airport will have a final major test. Visiting West Columbia is undefeated and third-ranked Irmo (4-0), a team off to its best start since 2017.
This is just the second meeting between Airport and Irmo. The Yellow Jackets rolled to a 37-0 victory and return several players who contributed to the victory.
Among the players Airport will see again is quarterback A.J. Brand, who has thrown 13 touchdowns passes without an interception. There’s also the addition of transfers wide receiver Donovan Murph and running back Jaden Allen-Hendrix, who rushed for 201 yards and four touchdowns in the 35-21 victory over previously second-ranked Hartsville.
“Irmo has an unbelievable team,” Fidler said. “Coach (Aaron) Brand and his staff have done an amazing job with this group. Obviously, his son at quarterback with SEC offers and the 230-pound player at running back (Hendrix) are big difference makers. The tight end (Caleb Alexander) is a great player along with all their length and speed at wide receiver.”
The offensive line has D1 prospects on it as well. They have an incredible amount of offensive talent.”
Defensively, the Yellow Jackets are holding opponents to nine points a game. Linebacker Xavier Montgomery had an interception return for a touchdown against Airport and Jylil Favor has been one of the leading tacklers.
The Eagles have been equally stingy on defense in their four wins. They have allowed an average of 7.2 points in the victories, led by linebacker Bryant Cherry who had 11 tackles in the 35-18 win over Fox Creek.
On offense, quarterback Jesse Ray Hoover has thrown for 625 yards, eight touchdowns and only two interceptions. Both Shiloh Perry, who had two touchdown catches last week, and Avery Jones are the leading wide receivers and Amari Lewis is coming off a 125-yard game against the Predators.
With the Region 5-4A opener next week against Aiken, Friday’s game could serve as a measuring stick for the Eagles.
“We told our kids to be the best you have to beat the best,” Fidler said. “Irmo is one of if not the best team in the state in 4A so even with our season being where it is right now, this game will allow us to see where we are in comparison to those at the very top of our level – which is where we want to be. We are excited to play in this game. It’s a big game and Airport is used to playing in big games throughout its history.”
Week Five South Carolina Prep Football Media Poll
1. South Florence (18) (5-0)
2. Northwestern (5) (3-1)
3. Irmo (4-0)
4. James Island (5-0)
5. Hartsville (4-1)
6. South Pointe (3-2)
7. Westside (3-1)
8, Midland Valley (5-0)
9. West Florence (3-1)
10. Greenville (3-2)
Others receiving votes: Lucy Beckham, Ridge View, AC Flora, Indian Land, Airport