By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
After earning his stripes in the small school ranks, Jeff Cheatham is back among the big boys.
Cheatham was hired Tuesday to be the new head football coach and athletic coordinator at Class 5A Round Rock High after spending the last 10 years leading program at 2A Salado.
"It was an opportunity that I felt like I needed to take," Cheatham said by phone Tuesday. "Obviously, it's not at the best time, but you've got to do what you've got to do."
Cheatham replaces Lanny Wilson, who resigned May 20, immediately following Round Rock's spring practices. Wilson coached the Dragons for seven years, but cited "physical ailments" as his reason for leaving.
Until last season, the Dragons had reached the Class 5A state playoffs four straight years under Wilson, who will be an assistant coach this fall at Gonzales.
"It's been a real emotional day. I've had some great relationships here, that you ... It's very bittersweet," Cheatham said. "It always takes an emotional toll on you when you have to make these kind of decisions."
Salado, which is moving from 2A to 3A next season and will join Lampasas in District 25-3A, is left searching for a replacement eight weeks from the beginning of fall practices in early August.
"I was very grateful for this great community, for the 10 years of support from the school board and administration," Cheatham said. "It's been an unbelievable opportunity, and some fantastic and wonderful memories that I will remember and cherish forever.
"I just want to thank (the Salado) community for everything that they've done for me and my family."
In his decade at Salado, Cheatham compiled a 64-55 record with a career-best 13-1 finish in 2007, going undefeated into the Class 2A-Division I region semifinals before falling to Tatum 41-31.
Cheatham has previous 5A coaching experience as an offensive coordinator at Irving from 1995-99, before getting the head job at Salado, where he's been for the last decade. A former college quarterback at Sam Houston State, Cheatham also worked as a graduate assistant at his alma mater.
"My hope is to add the success (at Round Rock) that they already have and build on the future there," Cheatham said.