Less than two years after being diagnosed with testicular cancer, Luke Jackson is pushing for serious playing time during Tulane’s preseason football camp.
Never mind the feel good story about a guy overcoming a major health scare just to stay on the team. Jackson, a redshirt sophomore defensive end from LaPlace, appears ready to author an even more heart warming chapter.
“I feel better now than I ever did,” he said. “I’m back up to where I was (before the cancer), and I’m actually a little heavier right now. I’m ready to keep working toward my goals.” He never stopped.
Jackson received his diagnosis in November of 2013, finished chemotherapy treatment the following February, had surgery to remove lymph nobes in his abdomen that April and has been cancer free since then.
The toughest part was regaining the physicality required of a defensive end. The recovery rate for testicular cancer is better than 95 percent if it is caught early, as Jackson’s was, but he had to rebuild his body after losing 30 pounds during his ordeal.
When he reported for preseason drills this August, he was up to 235 pounds on his 6-foot-3 frame — five more than when he arrived in 2013.
HIs hard work paid off. Less than a week into drills, he moved up to the second team, and he received plenty of reps with the top unit at right end in Tulane’s first preseason scrimmage on Saturday, exhibiting a quick first step.
“He’s going to play,” Tulane coach Curtis Johnson said. “He’s having a phenomenal camp.”
The Green Wave has one definite starter at end in senior Royce LaFrance, who made a team-high six sacks a year ago. The frontrunners on the other side are talented, raw sophomore Ade Aruna and Daren Williams, who combined for 17 tackles in 2014.
Jackson is competing with redshirt freshmen Robert Kennedy and Peter Woullard for the fourth spot in the rotation — or maybe higher. Either way, Jackson is pleased with his own progress.
“I’m happy right now with being on the second team,” he said. “All the ends we have right now are competing well, and I thinks all six will be in the rotation. Some will play more than others, but still, being in the rotation is playing. I won’t be mad if I’m fifth or sixth.”
His cancer scare may have altered his perspective more than any physical ability. With the possibility of football being taken away, he learned to enjoy every moment.
That included practicing last season at linebacker, a position he knew he never would play in a game, because he was too light to work with the defensive line.
“It was hard, but at the same time it was kind of fun to sit back and watch the game,” he said. “At practice I was just more relaxed and having a little more fun than being serious and focused on getting the job done.”
He moved back to end this past spring and begin feeling like his old self. HIs improvement this preseason has put him in position for something new — action in a college game for the first time.
While taking nothing for granted, he already is anticipating Tulane’s opener against Duke on Sept. 3.
“It’s a Thursday night game on TV, and if I make it on the field, it will be a very exciting day,” he said. “The last time I played in a real game was high school (at St. Charles Catholic), so this will be a bigger experience.”
By nature, Jackson is even-tempered, rarely getting too high or too low. That trait has served him well during and after his diagnosis.
His uncle, David Jackson, played linebacker for Tulane in the early 1980s. David Jackson’s 163 tackles as a senior rank him fifth in the school record book.
For a different reason, Luke Jackson’s first tackle will be just as meaningful.
“He never complained,” Johnson said. “He’s just a great kid from a great family.”