Jenkins’ new head coach Jason Cameron has a lot to look forward to in his first season at the helm of a high school football program. The 31-year old Cameron has been a fixture at Jenkins for six years and has run the offense for five of them. But now he is the main man coaching the No. 8 team in Class AAA.
The program from Savannah has been on the rise, and it isn’t a shock that it has garnered much-needed attention. In 2016, Jenkins won its first region title since 1966, ending a 50-year drought. The Warriors won the first playoff victory in program history, defeating Dougherty 31-14 in the first round before losing to eventual state champion Cedar Grove, 28-3.
Last year’s accomplishments are impressive, but that was last season. This year, the Warriors are 2-0 after defeating New Hampstead 28-0 in the opener and then outlasting South Effingham, 45-36. The performances earned the Warriors a No. 8 ranking in the Class AAA polls, the first time Jenkins has been ranked since 1970.
The ranking might not seem like a big deal, but for a Jenkins program that spent years in Class AAAAA battling the likes of Coffee and Camden County, the hopes for a top-10 ranking were non-existent.
(For more information on the reclassification of Savannah football programs, see my interview with Coach Tim Adams from Nov. 1, 2016: http://highschoolsports.blog.ajc.com/2016/11/01/a-conversation-with-jenkins-head-coach-tim-adams-on-reclassification/)
Jenkins, which faces Liberty County on Friday before starting region play Sept. 15 against Johnson-Savannah, will be a top contender for the Region 3 title again this season. The Warriors offense is led by 6-foot, 165-pound Javonte Middleton, who has passed for 302 yards and has five total touchdowns in two games. Ameen Stevens has 30 carries for 330 yards and four touchdowns. Tyrone Scott, a 6-2, 195-pound wide receiver, has seven catches for 260 yards and four touchdowns.
Cameron talked about his team, and other things, Tuesday during a wide-ranging Q&A:
Q. What does it mean to be ranked for the first time since 1970?
A. We discussed it a little bit in our team meeting yesterday, and obviously it is a great honor and we are proud of it. We just have to kind of keep our kids grounded, humble and hungry. We really need to focus on those postseason rankings, and hopefully at the end, the goal is to be No. 1 in those rankings.
Q. Tell me about your team this season vs. last year’s region title team.
A. We returned a lot of guys, but at the same time, we graduated a lot, too. You don’t replace a guy like Joe Burke and Bryan Wilson and Ray Ard, guys like that. So right now we have some young kids that are stepping up alongside with our seniors. So we have a really good mix of that senior leadership and that kind of guidance of the sophomores and juniors who might be playing on Friday nights for the first time. Defensively, we returned a bunch, but we have two defensive lineman filling in, one upper-classman and one senior. We have a sophomore cornerback. We have a junior that fills in at the linebacker position from a graduation loss. Offensively, we have a sophomore center and pretty much a few plug-ins offensively. We have a sophomore wide-receiver because of injury. So we kind of have a few plug-ins but mostly we have a good returning bunch. But the good and strong leadership, to me, is the difference between this year and even in years past when I was there.
Q. When coach Adams left for South Effingham, did you think you’d be picked to succeed him?
A. It was a pretty long process, actually. They had a bunch of applicants because Jenkins is not only a great school to coach football but it is just a fantastic place to work, in general. I interviewed two different times and was hoping my name would be called, but I did not think it was a guarantee. I am proud and very happy to walk into a situation like I did with a great team returning.
Q. You are 2-0 this season. How did it go in the first two games.
A. What prepared us for both of the games this season was scrimmaging a team like Benedictine. We were excited about that scrimmage, not only for the competition part but just for the sheer fact that we knew it was going to prepare us. We played a full-game scrimmage, all special teams live so we had to get ready really quickly to get ready for that scrimmage. We made it just like a game week and treated it just like a game. So, moving into New Hampstead, we were already able to kind of tweak some things that you sometimes don’t get to tweak until after the first game, but being that we already had one under our belt, that definitely helped us, especially defensively. South Effingham … the same thing. We had maybe three hours out on the practice field because of weather. We did not take a team rep all week on offense. So it was kind of a tough week, practice-wise. But like I said, the preparation with Benedictine got us ready for those first two games.
Q. How does the family feel about head coach daddy?
A. Aw man, it is great. I have a little guy at home, a 19-month old. My wife was a Division-1 athlete and played soccer at the University of South Carolina at Aiken, so she knows how it goes. She is a perfect coach’s wife. She understands the long hours, and I just know my support system is phenomenal.
Q. Hobbies outside of football?
A. I am kind of a sports junkie. I played basketball in college, so I am really into sports. A lot of my time without football is consumed with family, but if I could get out and play a little golf, I’d love to. But I don’t have time for that right now. A lot of family time, a lot of spending time at the beach — we live really close to it — so, things like that.
Q. What coach had an impact you on your path to becoming a head coach?
A. I pretty much have two. They’re both from New Jersey, where I am from. I played for John Brunelli in high school. He is in the New Jersey coaches Hall of Fame. He coached 30-plus years. And then Jose Rebimbas, who was my college basketball coach. Both of them were similar, but different in ways, and I feel I try to take a bit from both of them to kind of create my own coaching style. But they have a lot to do with the way I coach and pretty much why I got into coaching.
Q. You are stuck on a deserted island with one song to listen to forever. Name it.
A. Oh man, that is a tough one. I will tell you, this might be the toughest question I have gotten asked since being hired, through all of the interviews. Let me think, let me think, let me think … um… Bruce Springsteen’s “Glory Days”. Yep, that’s the one.