MEBANE, N.C. --- Eastern Alamance High has been open for over six decades. In that span, it has reached the state championship game four times and sent countless players to the Shrine Bowl. But, until North Carolina four-star verbal commitment Jonah Melton came along, it had not possessed an All-American.
"In the history of our school, we've never had anybody make a game like this," Eastern Alamance head coach John Kirby said. "Shrine Bowl, that's about as big as we've gotten. I don't know if we've really realized how important it is and we probably won't until it's all said and done. It gives inspiration to a lot of our younger kids to see something like this happening. It gives us hope that even at a small school things like this can happen if you work hard and have been blessed with talent.
"Jonah is a humble kid -- he kind of leads by example. And this is another example that he's providing."
On Tuesday, the Under Armour All-American Game Selection Tour stopped in Mebane to present Melton, a 6-foot-3, 293-pound offensive lineman, with his All-American jersey.
"It means a lot to me," Melton said. "I've been working hard for this and have had my coaches and my teammates pushing me these past few years. To have an opportunity to play in a game like this is just a huge accomplishment."
Unfortunately, the ACL tear that has kept Melton sidelined for his entire senior season will prevent him from playing in the Under Armour All-American Game. That didn't stop Under Armour from honoring Melton.
"It just says that they know that things happen and I'm going to come back as a better player once I'm 100-percent when I enroll at North Carolina," Melton said.
While he won't be able to play in the game, Melton will partake in the surrounding festivities. He'll arrive in Orlando on Dec. 31, a day before the All-America Game, and leave a day after the game.
"I'll be down there for about three days," Melton said. "So, I'll be a part of the ceremonies. It should be a good time."
According to Kirby, Melton's dominance during his junior season earned him a ticket to the Under Armour All-American Game.
"I think that Jonah as sophomore on varsity, could compete with his size and his ability," Kirby said. "But he didn't realize in his mind that he could. And I think that once he started learning exactly what to do, where to go, and how to do it, he gained a lot of confidence. And when you gain a lot of confidence, you play a little bit more aggressive. I think in the beginning of his junior year, it kind of all clicked and then he started dominating at his position.
"He's very quick off the ball. We like to pull and have our guards lead, and a lot of times when you have a big lineman in space they have a hard time blocking a linebacker just because naturally that linebacker is a better athlete. But, Jonah was athletic enough and mobile enough and quick enough and had enough nastiness that he could do those things. I only can imagine what his senior year would have been like, because his junior year was a very dominant, dominant deal."
Although Eastern Alamance is 8-1, the Eagles are missing Melton this season.
"We've never had a high school All-American and to have him stand on the sideline, it hurts," Kirby said. "I think the first month after we realized he tore his ACL, I felt more sorry for myself than he did. I kept thinking what could have been if he was still here. But God has a plan for him.
"But I do think our football team would have been more explosive. And when it's third-and-one or fourth-and-one we know where we'd be going to."
As far as the recovery is concerned, Melton is on schedule, primarily because there's no rush to get him on the field.
"I'm doing a lot now," Melton said. "I can run sprints now -- I feel almost faster than I was before. And I'm doing a lot of change-of-direction stuff -- I'm planting my foot and going. I'm cleaned to do all the lifts [and] all the running.
"It feels really good. It's getting really close to being full go."
That means Melton, who will graduate from Eastern Alamance in December and enroll at UNC in January, is on track to be a full participant for spring practice.
"I'm looking forward to getting into the scheme as soon as I get there," Melton said. "I want to have the opportunity to fight for playing time."
Considering the injuries that UNC's offensive line has faced this season, UNC offensive line coach Chris Kapilovic has joked that he needs Melton several months before January.
"Every time I call him a day before a game he says to bring my pads," Melton said. "I talked to Coach Heck [Keith Heckendorf] last week and he said all the lineman are dropping right now and there are going to be opportunities when I get there."