Every successful high school football team has to have “that guy.”
He doesn’t have to perform like a superhero on every play. But he must provide a presence, something that defensive end Jeremy Jackson does for Woodlawn High.
“What I like the most about playing defense is getting quarterback hurries and making tackles for loss,” Jackson said in a soft baritone voice.
Don’t let that off-the-field persona fool you. Though he’s undersized at 5-foot-11, 205 pounds, Jackson packs a wallop. He was a difference maker in the Panthers’ 28-0 victory over Denham Springs on Friday with seven tackles, two assists, one sack and three tackles for loss.
“He doesn’t say a lot,” Woodlawn’s second-year coach Brett Beard said. “He just comes to work every day and gets better. The other guys know you need to fall in line behind him or get out of his way.
“He’s got a little personality you don’t always see. He’ll laugh and cut up, but he understands when it’s time for business. He’s the guy everyone else trusts, and when it’s time to jump on somebody’s back, he’s the guy they go to.”
Woodlawn of District 5-5A finds itself it a curious crossroads this week. After shutting out 4A Belaire in the jamboree and DSHS of District 4-5A last week, the Panthers (1-0) host up-and-coming Madison Prep (1-0), a talented Class 1A team, at 7 p.m. Friday.
It has all the makings of a trap game, especially since the Chargers shut out 4A Ellender on the road last week. Jackson insists the Panthers won’t fall for it.
“We don’t look down on any opponent. We practice hard,” Jackson said. “Any time a 1A team can beat a 4A team it counts for something.”
Once again, Jackson comes across as reserved and understated. Beard provides an explanation and an illustration of what the second-year starter has done and can do.
Rewind to last year. Beard said it took Jackson a while to get his footing in a new 3-4 defense. At times it was tough because he was and still is undersized.
“Woodlawn was behind in the weight room, and we knew it,” Beard said. “I’m a big advocate of powerlifting because it gives you a way to compete all year. JJ was one of the guys who bought into that. When the numbers on squats and bench press started jumping the way his did, you get excited.
“He’s probably picked up a little weight and dropped some baby fat. He’s totally reshaped his body. He was already a great technician, and now he’s so much more explosive. He’s doing things I don’t think he even knew he could do.”
Of course, Jackson can’t leap tall buildings. He did increase his squat by 100 pound and bench press by 30 pounds. More importantly, the honor student is comfortable in his own skin as a defender and a leader. Instead of talking football, he’d rather do it.
“I totally understand the game more this year,” Jackson said. “There was some trial and error learning on the field. I spent time talking to coaches and watching film. I feel like it’s all started to come together for us.
“I’ve learned how to play situations. You want to hold the other team and put them in a situation they’re not comfortable with. We did that last week.”
That’s sound logic for a guy who is considering a college major in engineering.
Mention college and football in the same sentence and the eyes of most high school players light up. Jackson is a realist and knows advancing to the next level isn’t easy, especially for a lineman with the size of a high school linebacker or a college safety.
Beard, however, is an optimist. He compares Jackson to current Southeastern Louisiana linebacker Dereck Robinson, a player he coached at Destrehan High.
“Because he would be such a huge asset to any university because of who he is and how he handles himself, we’re going to push him hard to colleges,” Beard said. “He can be a Sam linebacker for a 3-4 team or he could play the middle in a 4-3. He’s good enough.”