By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
Jonah Melton was lined up to be the biggest thing to come out of Eastern Alamance football when his high school playing days were winding down.
Life’s twists and turns took him to Chapel Hill, Caswell County, and Tennessee. And now Friday night, he’ll be back on a football sideline, this time looking across the field at – gulp – Eastern Alamance.
Melton is offensive line coach for Southeast Alamance, a first-year school that has some students who were previously in the Eastern Alamance district. The Eagles visit the Stallions Friday night for the first Southeast home game in school history.
Melton was one of the first hires for Southeast coach Tony Aguilar, who was on the Eastern staff as offensive coordinator when Melton was playing. Melton and Aguilar’s son, A.J. Aguilar, were 2016 Eastern captains.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” Eastern coach John Kirby said. “I wish he was helping here instead of over there, but Coach Ag beat us to it.”
Melton, 24, is glad to be back in the game.
“I was very nervous to coach football because it had been a while since I played,” he said. “The relationships are starting to build with them and I’m having a lot of fun with it. … Try not to be too complicated. Just try to keep it as simple as we can.”
Before Melton’s senior high school season, he suffered a serious knee injury that prevented him from playing in 2016 for the Eagles. Before that, he was a notable North Carolina recruit, and he finished high school early and joined the Tar Heels that January under coach Larry Fedora.
“I was 17, fresh off of a knee surgery,” Melton said. “I was kind of timid and not very confident in myself at the time.”
He never felt right.
“After I tore my knee, I wasn’t playing as well anymore,” he said. “That was something I felt ashamed about myself for a long time. I just didn’t perform very well at Carolina. So 2½ years in, my knee was just never right.”
Shortly after Mack Brown arrived for his second coaching stint with the Tar Heels, Melton was pushed toward a new role despite two seasons of eligibility remaining. “One day I was a player, the next I was interning in the weight room,” he said.
He graduated in 2020 during the pandemic, taking about 3½ years.
“I was trying to figure out what I was going to do,” he said. “The world was kind of crazy. I ended up going to basic law enforcement training.”
He worked for the Caswell County Sheriff’s Office for about six months.
“That just wasn’t for me,” he said. “During that time, I was searching for graduate assistant positions in strength and conditioning.”
He took a job working with all sports at Cumberland University, an NAIA school in Lebanon, Tennessee. But with Southeast gearing up to open, he was in contact with Aguilar and principal Eric Yarbrough since last winter. He finished at Cumberland in May and was helping with the Stallions in workouts in June.
“I knew I wanted him on our staff,” Aguilar said. “He has seen how things are at higher levels and he’s going to be good for us on the field and in the weight room.”
For starters, Melton will teach math for exceptional children at Southeast.
Melton said he’s glad how this worked out, knowing that his reputation for moving defenders as an offensive lineman didn’t pan out in college.
“I held that against myself too much sometimes,” he said. “I try to not let what could have been define me. Be who I am, it’s all part of who I’m supposed to be, what I’m going to become.”
The ties to Eastern are apparent, with his teenage brother a student there (but not on the football team). Melton knows many of the families who’ll have players in Eagles uniforms this week.
His role with Southeast is bringing satisfaction.
“It’s just a testament to how this area has grown so much,” Melton said. “It’s awesome. I’m glad to be part of it.”