East Jackson looked to the Midwest to find a Georgia native to become its next football coach.
The Jackson County Board of Education approved Cameron Pettus as the Eagles’ new head coach Thursday night. Pettus, who is originally from Paulding County, has spent the past eight seasons at Belleville West High School in Illinois, where he coached the Maroons to a 45-35 record, including a 7-3 mark this past season.
Pettus, who will start work at East Jackson on Jan. 22, is eager for the next chapter of his career.
“I was joking around with (East Jackson athletic director) Shawn (Lindsey) that I couldn’t sleep last night,” he said last week, “so I’m definitely super excited and looking forward to the challenge. I know it’s a challenge, but that’s what makes it fun.”
The move will allow Pettus to live much closer to his family.
“I know my family is very, very happy,” he said. “My mom might be one of the happiest people on earth right now.”
Pettus, who spent 19 years in Illinois in two coaching stops, added that the distance from his family was challenging.
“When you’re this far away, you just feel handcuffed at times when things would come up,” he said. “So just to be back around your family, it’s going home.”
Though far from home, Pettus enjoyed a successful run in Illinois. He took Belleville West to seven-straight playoff appearances and coached the program to its first playoff win since 1976. He’ll take over a program coming off back-to-back one-win seasons that has cycled through three coaches in the last four years.
“I feel like he’s a guy that’s going to connect well with the kids in our community,” East Jackson athletic director Shawn Lindsey said. “He certainly has a résumé that’s proven.”
Lindsey, who received over 70 applications for the job, said he was looking, in particular, for a coach that had built a program, not just inherited a thriving one.
“That’s one of the things I was digging for was finding a guy that had been at a place that wasn’t just already good and he took over a good program,” he said. “He worked in a struggling program and developed kids and a program that was certainly a strong, competitive program. That’s what we were after. He’s also somebody who likes to put roots down and stay there.”
Pettus spent a total of 12 seasons at Belleville West, having served as the program’s defensive coordinator for four seasons before taking over as head coach.
Before his time at Belleville West, Pettus coached at McKendree (Illinois) University for seven years as a special teams coordinator, defensive line coach and director of strength and conditioning.
Pettus got his start at Paulding County High School, coaching there for four years.
Prior to coaching, he attended and played football at Paulding County High School and played collegiately for four years at Millikin University in Illinois.
Pettus will now become the sixth coach in East Jackson’s 11-year history. He said a meeting with the school administration and Lindsey over the Christmas break was one of the deciding factors in wanting the job.
“Sharing his passion … we met for three hours and it felt like 10 minutes, so that’s obviously a good sign, like I told my wife,” he said. “Being able to look at the facilities there, the area, it’s a great place to live and raise a family.”
Pettus has a 10-year-old daughter.
“Like I told them, I envision her graduating from East Jackson High School,” he said. “My wife, she’s super excited, too, and she loves the area.”
Pettus said he’s committed to coaching at East Jackson for the long haul.
“Whenever me and my family decide to do something, we’re all in,” he said. “So, we’re invested … We want to be here. This is not a stepping stone. This is not a pit stop. This is a destination place for us because we believe in it and we invest time in it.”
Pettus, who introduced himself to the community Sunday at a meet-and-greet, said he was fortunate and excited to have the job.
“I just cannot wait,” he said. “I can’t express how excited I am. I’m a high-energy guy anyways. This is a fantastic opportunity and I can’t wait to get going.”
The feeling is mutual.
“It’s just like us — it can’t happen quite fast enough,” Lindsey said.