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PREP FOOTBALL: Days as ‘great leader’ in high school led to Cawthon’s rise to head coach
Current Cawthon
Eastside Head Coach Jay Cawthorn earns a victory in the last regular season game against Greenbrier. - photo by Anthony Banks | The Covington News
Jay Cawthon (right) discusses strategy with head coach Sam Marra (left) during an 1988 Newton County High School football game. - photo by File Photos | The Covington News
Cawthon led Newton County's offense from 1988-1989 as the varsity quarterback. - photo by File Photos | The Covington News

COVINGTON, Ga. — When Eastside’s football season ended on Nov. 19, it marked the end of Jay Cawthon’s first season at the helm of the Eagles. Eastside finished third in Region 8-AAAAA. It also advanced to the second round of the Class 5A playoffs under Cawthon’s tutelage.  

Once the season was over, Cawthon highlighted the most challenging part of being a head coach for the first time. 

“The off the field stuff was the biggest adjustment,” Cawthon said. “Being on the sidelines has always been fun and our kids make the job easy. They go out there and compete their butts off everyday for this team.” 

Long before Cawthon was roaming the sidelines for Eastside, though, he was leading the offense for one of its in-county rival schools. 

It all started back in 1987 when Cawthon was a student at then-Newton County High School. 

The Rams won the region championship that year when Cawthon was the starting quarterback of the junior varsity team. A year later, Cawthon was named the varsity starter by head coach Sam Marra. 

Marra coached the Rams for five seasons from 1985-89 as well as two seasons prior at Villa Rica. When asked about the decision to name Cawthon starting quarterback, Marra said it was a no-brainer. 

“He was a great leader,” Marra said. “He had good control of the offense and made good decisions. [Cawthon] was the best quarterback we had.” 

Cawthon was 8-12 as a starting quarterback and led an offense that averaged 14 points per game across his two varsity seasons. Marra still considers Cawthon as one of the best he’s ever coached. 

“I would say he’s right up there,” Marra said. “He didn’t say a whole lot, but did exactly what you asked him to do. He was one of those ‘yes sir, no sir’ kids. He was just a great person.” 

Even though Cawthon’s roots are firm in Newton County, Cawthon had some accomplishments outside of the area. 

For instance, after his graduation from Newton County High School in 1990, Cawthon went on to attend the University of West Georgia. There, he earned his Bachelor’s of Science degree in Health and Physical Education in 1996. 

Cawthon had stints as an assistant coach before returning to Covington. 

First, he served on Central Gwinnett’s coaching staff in Lawrenceville followed by his time at Wheeler High School in Marietta. 

Then, Cawthon returned home. 

In 2005, Cawthon was named the offensive coordinator for the Eagles as part of former Eastside coach Rick Hurst’s staff. 

Ten years later, when Hurst stepped down in 2015, Troy Hoff, a fellow assistant of Cawthon’s, was named the head coach. 

Hoff retained Cawthon as his offensive coordinator when becoming the head man. 

Now the head guy at Woodstock, Hoff said he and Cawthon stay in touch often discussing the joys of being head coach. 

“It’s more than just coaching,” Hoff said. “We’ve had a lot of conversations about football and running programs between us. We’ve probably talked more about head coaching situations now that we’re both head coaches.” 

As the offensive coordinator, Cawthon helped lead Eastside to nine playoff appearances. In those nine seasons, the Eagles captured three region championships, made it to the semi-final once, made two quarter final appearances and advanced to the second round two times. 

Four of the seasons, Eastside didn’t make it past the first round. 

Throughout all 15 years of Cawthon leading the offense, the Eagles scored an average of 28.3 points per game. They also won 64% of their games. 

Following the 2020 season, Hoff announced his departure and Eastside named Cawthon as interim head coach on Feb. 12. Less than a month later, the Eagles tabbed Cawthon as the fourth head coach in program history.

Even though Hoff is no longer at Eastside, he admitted that he’s stayed up to date on Eagles football. 

“I think [Cawthon] has stepped up in that role and done a helluva job,” Hoff said. 

Now, after completing his first year at the helm, things have pretty much stayed the same for the Eagles. 

They won 67% of their games in 2021 (8-4 overall) and averaged 27.9 points per game. 

Being a leader from 1987 to the present day has seemed to prepare Cawthon to succeed in his current position. It’s been a long, winding road for the Newton County native, but he’s enjoyed the ride along the way. 

And seeing the success from 2020 carry over to 2021 was his primary goal when first accepting the promotion earlier this year. 

“My interest in the position was just because of the culture of the school here at Eastside and the culture of our program,” Cawthon stated in a press release announcing his promotion. “We have an awesome administration as well as great kids that work hard and do it the Eastside Way!”