West Columbia, SC - There are a lot of things you’ve probably heard about Paxton Brooks, Airport High School’s football standout.
He’s the nation’s No. 2 punter in the 2018 Kohl’s Kicking rankings. He’s got a 46.07 punt average at Airport so far this season (his longest: 61 yards) and is a perfect 3/3 so far in field goals. He recently announced his commitment to the University of Tennessee to play football in the 2018-19 season.
But did you know Paxton taught himself how to juggle? That he played trumpet in band in middle school and the early high school years? And that he listens to all kinds of music -- which, these days, includes a bit of Elvis Presley?
Tuesday, the 17-year-old was honored as Lexington District Two Student of the Year by the Greater Cayce-West Columbia Chamber of Commerce. It’s the same honor his brother Spencer, now at Clemson University, received in 2015. Paxton is the son of Lexington Two educators Dr. Dixon Brooks, Busbee Creative Arts Academy principal, and Mary Brooks, Congaree-Wood Early Childhood Center assistant principal.
We talked with Paxton about how he got into football, how he stays calm before big plays -- and why he’s dedicating his senior season at Airport to Kick-It for Cancer.
Q: Tell us about your early memories around kicking as a child. How did you get into football?
A: My kicking kind of originated from soccer, which I started playing around age 4. My brother Spencer played soccer with Brady Nelson, who was the Airport kicker when I was in the eighth grade and he was a junior. He convinced me to try kicking, because he needed someone to replace him when he graduated, so he worked with me.When I was in the eighth grade (at Fulmer Middle), we had a practice field but we didn’t have uprights. So I’d practice kicking the football on the brick on the side of the gym, aiming for patterns in the squares.I played both football and soccer up until junior year. After going to kicking camps over the summer, and Kohl’s Kicking Camps -- where I placed highly -- that’s when I realized I could do this at the next level. So I made the tough decision that I would not play club soccer or high school soccer so I could have more time for kicking.
Q: There’s a lot of pressure in your kicking jobs. What do you tell yourself right before a big play to stay calm?
A: I don’t know if there’s really a method to the madness. For me, the key is to not make a big deal out of it. You want every kick to be the same, to do the same thing you always do. At a big moment, you don’t want to overthink it. Let your practice take over. Trust in what you’ve worked on -- trust yourself and your teammates.
Q: Any pre-game rituals?
A: We listen to music (rap and rock). … One of the biggest keys for me is not to be overly focused on the game. We’ve got a lot of time before a game, like 1 or 2 hours, and I could really worry myself. But I’d rather sit there and talk to the long snapper, who’s one of my best friends, and talk with other folks and try to get our minds off the game. That way, when it’s game time, then you can focus and get your mind set on the game.
Q: What has been your biggest victory?
A: My biggest victory would be the full scholarship to Tennessee. It has been years in the making. … Since last winter, I’ve been working with kicking coaches to get prepared for the summer and camps. I went to multiple camps, got a better relationship with them (coaches) … All the effort I put into it, it feels pretty good.
Q: Why Tennessee?
A: I visited Tennessee during spring practice. The coaches really care about the players, you can tell … I always wanted to play in the big time, and Tennessee is. The environment and the fans, it’s really special. My role when I get there will be a punter/kickoff specialist. But I’ll be able to kick field goals if need be.
Q: Tell us about dedicating your season and raising funds for Kick-It to Cancer to fight pediatric cancer.
A: I went to a Kohl’s Southern Showcase camp, and they’re affiliated with the Kick-It group. We saw a presentation, and it touched me, because we at Airport do Camp Kemo and raise funds for kids with cancer. It’s always been an Airport thing to do that. So I thought, especially with my name blowing up, I thought it was a good thing to do to help raise money. I wanted to do something the community could get involved in.You can make a donation or pledge a certain amount for every point I score. So far, $267 has been pledged or raised, with a goal of $500. (Donate at https://www.kick-it.org/champ/2017/08/paxton-brooks-kicking-it-to-cancer).
Q: It’s your senior year. We’ve heard you’re graduating in December so you can go to Tennessee. You’re heading there with 30 college credits. You’re No. 2 in your Airport graduating class at this point. How does it feel?
A: It’s bittersweet. I love my school so much. I have friends all over the place in my school, in the area. I’ve had so many fun times. But at the same time, I am ready to move on -- ready to start something new, to start college football.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
A: Ideally I would like to be in the NFL. … I’m majoring in kinesiology; I could go into physical therapy. Whatever I do, I want to stay in the sports realm.
BY THE NUMBERS
Paxton Brooks, Airport High School punter and kicker
As of Sept. 15
Field goals: 3/3 (longest: 42 yards)
Extra points: 10/10
Punt average: 46.07 yards (longest: 61 yards)
Worth noting: Brooks has made 2 tackles
Percentage of field goals and extra points made: 85
Punt average: 41.3 yards
Worth noting: His longest field goal of the year -- 51 yards -- clinched the win over North Augusta and a home playoff game. He also threw a 2-point conversion