When East Jackson football coach Cameron Pettus thinks about the best players in Class AAA, he believes he’s seeing one of them on his own practice field every day.
The Eagles’ R.J. White returns for his senior year, where he is a mainstay of the East Jackson defense at its “star” position.
“He’s phenomenal,” Pettus said. “I think he’s one of the best in the region. I think he’s one of the best in the state.”
And others throughout the state have taken note.
White was recently named a preseason all-state honorable mention by RecruitGeorgia.com. The website’s profile of White, which notes his quickness, ball skills and change-of-direction, forecasts him as a potential Division-I player.
Pettus raves about what White brings to the field for the Eagles, who improved to 3-7 last year after consecutive one-win seasons.
“He’s got great instincts and breaks on the ball well,” Pettus said. “He’s got great speed. He’s just a phenomenal football mind back there, and I think he really makes that secondary go at that star safety (position).”
And White is happy to play that star position (a defensive back-linebacker hybrid).
“They don’t know when I’m coming,” he said. “I’m like a blind spot pretty much.”
White thrived at that spot as a junior in 2019, recording 41 tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and two interceptions, both of which he took back for touchdowns.
“Coaches put me in a great position where I’m at on the field,” White said.
But White might take on a larger role in the offensive game plan this fall as the Eagles hope to increase his touches at wide receiver.
White caught seven passes last year, including one for a touchdown in the Eagles’ 45-31 shootout loss to Morgan County. In fact, White totaled four catches for 67 yards in that game, perhaps providing a glimpse of what’s to come this year.
More offensive snaps are fine with White.
“I like offense better,” White said, when asked which side of the ball he preferred. “I’m trying to get more involved and help the scoring for the team.”
He’s also assumed a leadership role for the Eagles, who are trying to end a string of 10-straight seasons without a playoff berth. Pettus praised White for taking on that responsibility.
“He’s one of those guys that we talk to as a coaching staff and on an intimate basis and he does a great job leading this team,” Pettus said. “Him and (quarterback) Greg Huggs have really stepped up and done a nice job with senior leadership.”
White aims to continue playing football in college, having already garnered an offer from Reinhardt, an NAIA power. Pettus said White’s versatilely will appeal to college coaches.
“I think he’s got that athletic ability where he could do a lot of different things … He’s one of those guys that coaches like to bring in because he’s an athlete,” Pettus said. “He can play a lot of different things.”
But first, White hopes a big 2020 campaign is in store for the Eagles, who generated some momentum last year with an improved win total.
“We’ve just got to keep working … I hope we do better this year and come into this season with the right mindset,” White said.
And Pettus appreciates the mindset White brings each day. He said White is the “kind of player that you love to have as a coach.”
“Because he shows up and he works hard every day, he’s a leader and he’s athletically gifted,” Pettus said. “He’s just the perfect kid in our program … I think he epitomizes what we’re doing here at East Jackson.”