Hunter Jenks said he was very happy during his stint as head football coach at South Johnston.
But when a coveted job opened up as Randy Pinkowski retired at Clayton, Jenks thought the opportunity was too good to ignore.
He’ll debut as the just Comets’ fourth head coach in 59 seasons when they visit Cleveland on Aug. 19. The late Glenn Nixon and then Gary Fowler, for whom Nixon-Fowler Stadium is named, had maintained the long tradition of success before Pinkowski’s three-year run.
“There’s a great tradition on the field, but when you start peeling back the layers there’s always a football community – everything from service organizations to how active the parents and the booster club are,” said Jenks, who played at Wake Forest High and Elon University. “I remember playing Pee Wee football against Clayton Civitan (for teams from Wake Forest) and they were always good.
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“There are a lot of things in place at Clayton to help us succeed. Every time we go out to practice there are people in the parking lot watching. It’s a high-profile job, and I want to be somewhere where there’s pressure. I was happy at South, and those seniors are my players, so it was a tough decision. But I’ve got a family I’ve got to support.”
Jenks said the Comets should be able to compete in a loaded Greater Neuse River 4A because of depth and experience. Clayton has 62 seniors and juniors on its roster.
“We’ll be able to two-platoon,” he explained. “We’ll have some tight-end sets and some four-wide receiver sets. Our personnel are going to let us be very multiple offensively. And we’ll base out of an odd-front defense. We can use the talents of each individual player and put together a package. It’s been fun.
“We’ve watched every varsity and every JV game from last year multiple times. Things will change when we see people hit more, but we’ll have a good starting base,” he said. “When we look at the depth chart, we’re three and four deep in some positions.”
Who are some players to watch?
“This is as much talent as I’ve been around since I was an assistant at Wakefield,” Jenks said. “We could be very, very good. And we’re very junior-heavy.”
Junior quarterback Landen Leiser already has half a season of starting experience.
Jenks said sophomore defensive end Savion Jackson and junior wideout Devin Carter in particular should be Division I prospects. Senior center Adonis Kinsey will be the only returning starter on the offensive line.
Jenks said he’s looking for big things from senior running back Corbin Northern, who was second in the 100 meters at the conference track meet. He also said junior basketball players Macaleb Robertson and E.J. Bradshaw could be explosive wide receivers.
Which players will Clayton miss most?
Blake Joyner had over 1,100 all-purpose yards, 700 receiving yards and 14 TDs, and is now on the baseball team at UNC Pembroke.
Outside linebacker Nick Greco had a team-best 90 tackles in his senior season. And then there’s that matter of replacing four starting offensive linemen.
Will there be big changes in the way the Comets do things after a 3-8 season?
“We didn’t have to come in and change everything; we just want to get one percent better at everything,” Jenks said. “I went up and talked to the rugby coach (Peter Baggetta) at Gonzaga High School in D.C., the three-time defending national champs. He has a doctorate in educational psychology and he talks about always trying to get one percent better.
“We can learn about success from people outside of football, because if somebody is successful there’s a reason for it.”
What about continuing traditions?
Those are easy to see in the coaching staff.
Offensive coordinator David Nixon is Glenn Nixon’s grandson, while defensive back coach Darren Banks was starting quarterback for Fowler’s 1989 state 2A champions.
Assistants Steve Moats and Ricky Bucklin are veteran Clayton aides, while Jason Warren, Brandon Lusk RB, Aaron Fite and Marc Lakey were all involved with Jenks’ program at South.
More on the Comets
Last year: 3-8 (2-5 Greater Neuse River 4A)
Five-year average: 6-6 (4-3)
Preseason N&O rank: Unranked
Coaches: Hunter Jenks (head), Steve Moats (DC/ILB), David Nixon (OC/OL), Darren Banks (DB), Ricky Bucklin (DL), Jason Warren (OLB), Brandon Lusk (RB), Brent Bailey (WR), Phil Harris (WR), Aaron Fite (OL), Marc Lakey (Off.)
Contributors: Landen Leiser (Jr., QB), Bryce Swackhammer (Sr., OLB), Brock Swackhammer (Sr., RB), Cole Fitzsimmons (Sr., DL), Savion Jackson (So., DE), Devin Carter (Jr., WR), Corbin Northern (Sr., RB), Macaleb Robinson (Jr., WR), E.J. Bradshaw (Jr., WR), Adonis Kinsey (Sr., C), Josh Latta (Jr., OG), Mason Deal (Jr., OG), Alex Stepnowski (Jr., OT), Titus Anderson (So., OT).
The main number: 62. The combined number of seniors and juniors on the Comets’ roster.
Aug. 19 at Cleveland 7:30 p.m.
Aug. 26 Corinth Holders 7 p.m.
Sept. 1 #South Johnston 7 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Smithfield-Selma 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 16 *at East Wake 7 p.m.
Sept. 23 *Harnett Central 7 p.m.
Sept. 30 *Knightdale 7 p.m.
Oct. 7 *at Garner 7 p.m.
Oct. 14 BYE
Oct. 21 *West Johnston 7 p.m.
Oct. 28 *at Rolesville 7 p.m.
Nov. 4 *Southeast Raleigh 7 p.m.
Note: *conference game. #Thursday game.