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Clayton football coach Hunter Jenks resigns

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Just three days before his fourth season was to begin, Clayton High head coach Hunter Jenks has resigned from his position as football coach and teacher at the school effective immediately, according to a statement Jenks sent to the Johnstonian News on Tuesday afternoon.

“Effective immediately, I am stepping down as the head football coach and teacher at Clayton High School,” Jenks said in the statement. “I recognize the timing of this decision will be difficult for those involved. However, my family and I have endured a lot this year and as I step back and reflect, I need to make decisions based on what is best for them. As a result, I have accepted a job opportunity that is closer to my home and will be better for my family.”

Attempts made by the Johnstonian News to reach both Jenks and Clayton athletic director John Asmussen by phone for comment were not returned Wednesday.

Jenks’ exit comes just days before the Comets are scheduled to travel to Richmond County on Friday to open the season. A spokesman for Johnston County Public Schools confirmed that as of Wednesday, an interim head coach had not been named.

In June, Johnston County Public Schools announced it was investigating claims that Clayton staff members changed a football player’s grades to make sure he was eligible for the season after a whistleblower emailed Johnston County school board member Ronald Johnston of Clayton alerting him of academic allegations that implicated the school.

On Aug. 12, Clayton High Principal Bennett Jones was reassigned to a position as lead administrator of the Choice Plus program at the school district’s central office without explanation. Jones has since appealed his transfer after it was made official at an Aug. 13 board meeting protested by many students and other supporters of Jones.

In his statement, Jenks claimed that Superintendent Ross Renfrow came to the school and met with him that same day and reassured Jenks “and the members of the 2019 Clayton football program that there was no evidence of academic fraud, player ineligibility or recruiting found as a result of the 10-week investigation this summer.”

Jenks continued: “However, I have decided that pursuing this opportunity outside of the district is the right thing at this time.”

Reached by phone Wednesday, Johnston County Public Schools Athletic Director Brent Walston would not confirm whether Jenks’ claims were true and declined to comment on Jenks’ resignation.

“Basically, I’ve got to refer everything to our communications person,” Walston said.

CBS 17 first reported that Jenks has taken a football coaching position at West Millbrook Middle School in Wake County, where he will teach ALC. A Johnstonian News request to Wake County Public Schools verifying Jenks’ new position had not been returned as of Wednesday.

Jenks took the position as head of the Clayton football team in 2016, coming to the school from the same position at South Johnston, where he was head coach for two seasons. Jenks coached the Comets to a 6-6 record his first season, then a 13-1 record that placed the team atop the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference. Last year, Clayton posted a 9-3 record and was predicted to finish third in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.

“It has been my honor to work with the players and families of Clayton High School who have welcomed my family and me in as their own. Over the past three seasons, we have accomplished a lot both on and off the field, and no one will ever be able to take that away. The Clayton community should be proud of the young men developing through this program. Clayton is a special town and to be the football coach at Clayton High School is a forever type of job; it has become impossible to be my forever job,” Jenks said. “I will always be grateful for the time I have spent at CHS and sincerely thank the administration, coaches, parents, community and boosters for all of their support. Most especially though, I want to again thank the young men that have done everything that we have asked as part of this program. I love and appreciate them all and wish them much success and happiness in their future endeavors. I am proud of them and will support them as their coach and biggest champion.”

To close his statement, Jenks said it’s important for the Clayton community to support the football team moving forward during a time of turmoil and transition.

“As the program moves forward, it is important for the community to get behind this excellent group of young men,” Jenks said. “(Interim Principal) Mr. Chase Ferrell has led a high school before, and will act in a quick and appropriate manner to name an interim head coach. Please support him during the transition.”