Cameron Pack will forever hold a place in the long and illustrious history of the Mount Airy High School athletic program. Last month at the NCHSAA wrestling championships, he and teammate Jacob Hogue became the first Granite Bears to ever win two individual state titles in any sport.
With that said, it might have come as a surprise to many when the 2015 170-pound and 2016 195-pound 1A wrestling state champion announced his college plans recently.
Pack was regarded as a collegiate prospect in both wrestling and in football, and had received offers from several NCAA Division II and Division III programs to play on the gridiron at the next level. Despite his success on the mat, football is what the 6’5”, 200-pound senior preferred to pursue.
“Football is my passion. I like wrestling, but I love football,” he said. “If I am going to go to college and work hard, I want to do what I love.”
As things turned out, he’ll not only get the opportunity to play college football, but he’ll get to do so at the highest level.
Pack was on the campus of Appalachian State University on Feb. 3, ironically to meet with the school’s wrestling coaches, when his dream of playing Division I college football took an unusual twist.
“He was recruited (for football) by several D2 and D3 schools, but he really wanted to go to App,” said Cameron’s father Jamie, a former MAHS football player and wrestler in his own right. “We decided we would go over there and talk to them about wrestling, since App had talked to him about wrestling before. It was National Signing Day for football, and we stopped by the (football) office and the coach wasn’t there, but we said we’d send a highlight tape. We sent the tape, and they contacted us back.”
Up until that point, the trip had actually not gone as Cameron had hoped that it would.
“I actually went up there to talk to the wrestling coach,” he said. “I decided that really wasn’t for me, and I decided to go up to the football office and meet with them.”
After they returned home, the Packs mailed Cameron’s highlight tape to the Mountaineers’ football office, and what they saw must have impressed the coaching staff. He was invited back to Boone, and while the school didn’t have any scholarships to offer, they did want Cameron to play for them. Coach Scott Satterfield offered Pack an opportunity to join the Mountaineers with “preferred walk-on” status, meaning that he is guaranteed a spot on the team and doesn’t have to try out like most non-scholarship players do. If he proves his worth, he could earn a scholarship in some future season.
“My goal at the beginning was to play D1,” said Cameron, who was leaning toward playing for Division II Catawba before receiving the offer from Appalachian. “It’s something I have always wanted to do, so I’m pretty happy.”
Although Cameron is a “big man on campus” when it comes to wrestling, he was no slouch in football, either. No one was certain what to expect from the Granite Bears last fall, when head coach Kelly Holder fielded one of the youngest teams he’d ever had. Pack, one of a handful of seniors on the team, helped lead the team both by his words and actions as Mount Airy earned a state playoff berth by finishing third in the Northwest 1A Conference behind powerhouses East Surry and Walkertown.
“When you go hard, and do what you say, then people respect you,” said Holder. “Cameron doesn’t say a lot, but when he did say something, the younger players respected him, because they knew he was going to do it as well.”
He led the Bears with 103 tackles from his inside linebacker position, 16 more than anyone else on the team. He also had an interception that both he and his coach cited as a highlight moment.
Mount Airy was the underdog in its first-round playoff game, a 221-mile road trip to Whiteville. The Wolfpack, led by dangerous quarterback Nydir Carr, was favored to win the game, but the Bears’ defense wasn’t listening.
“They were the 5 seed and we were the 12 seed, so we weren’t even supposed to win the game,” Cameron said. “We thought we would win, but a lot of people didn’t.”
It came down to the final minute, with Mount Airy leading 10-6 and Carr leading Whiteville deep into Bear territory. Pack intercepted a pass and returned it more than 50 years before fumbling it back to the Wolfpack. It didn’t matter, though. Whiteville didn’t have the time to drive the length of the field again.
“We were very close to either winning or losing, and I got an interception and took it down to the 20,” he said. “Sadly, I fumbled the football, but I’d taken it all the way back to their 20 and we won the game. I didn’t win it for us, but I helped a lot.”
His leadership qualities go beyond the football field, though.
“We always encouraged him to do his best no matter what it was, in sports, in the classroom, everything,” Jamie said. “What impressed App about him was his size, of course, but also his work in the classroom and his character, because they knew how hard he had to work to be a state champ.”
In addition to his school activities, Cameron is also a youth leader at Woodland Baptist Church in Rural Hall, where his mother Shannon is a teacher at the church’s private school.
“I enjoy going to church and helping out with my youth group,” he said. “I take that pretty seriously. My life is really God, family and sports. I give God the glory in all that I do.”
He will face a challenge to earn playing time for the Mountaineers, who won three national championships at the Division I FCS level before upgrading to the FBS in 2013. Last fall, in their first year of bowl eligibility, Appalachian finished second in the Sun Belt Conference, earning a trip to the Camellia Bowl, where they beat Ohio University 31-29 to finish with an 11-2 record.
“I have a spot on the team, but I’ll have to earn any playing time,” he said. “That’s fine.”
Don’t count him out from doing just that.
“He worked hard for everything he has. He deserves what he’s getting,” said his sister Christiana.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.