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By Gabriel Stovall
TYRONE, Ga. — Javon Jackson’s been playing football since he was five years old, but when you ask him the one moment in his career thus far that stands out, you don’t have to go back that far.
“It had to have been this past season against Cartersville,” Jackson said. “I took a kickoff back for a touchdown and I had 11 tackles, although we lost the game, I felt good about the way that I played.”
That’s because those weren’t just empty stats. Those numbers represented plays that helped make his other Patriot teammates better, even in the midst of a critical moment.
The 90-yard score on the kickoff return gave the Patriots new life after their star defensive end, and Georgia Tech signee, Trent Sellers went down with an injury.
Cartersville went on to win the game by scoring in the last 20 seconds “on some fluke stuff,” Jackson said. But the way he played that night was no fluke.
It gave Jackson a chance to show that he was more than just a fast, physical athlete, but that he could also be a leader.
“The kick return picked us up and the tackles and all that helped everyone else around me make plays,” Jackson said.
The Patriots went on to an 11-2 2014 season — subpar to both his and the program’s standards.
“Our expectation every year is to win a region championship and to make a run in state,” Jackson said. “Last year we didn’t get a region title, but this year it’s gonna be even more of a big deal for us to get there.”
And don’t be surprised if the 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior safety is one of the key leaders in that happening.
In a Southern Crescent area that, each year seems to boast more and more on-the-radar college football prospects, it may have seemed that Jackson had been a bit off the radar, despite a 2014 campaign where he notched 58 tackles — 49 solo stops — along with a team leading six interceptions to go along with three pass breakups, and despite already having a few college offers under his belt.
But after a flurry of recruitment activity this past weekend, when many current juniors were gracing college campuses for “Junior Day,” the Sandy Creek DB picked up a couple of big offers — one from Louisville and one from 2014 Sun Belt Conference champion Georgia Southern — in a matter of two days.
That brings his total of Div. I offers to seven, and it lifts his personal expectations on the kind of player he wants to be in 2015.
“It’s always exciting to get the offers,” Jackson said. “Very exciting, actually. The fact that it happened literally a couple of days a part from each other. Wow. Yeah, but I know getting these offers comes with leadership. And I’ll be expected to make more plays and be more of a leader this year.”
Jackson, also a Sandy Creek basketball player, said he’s starting to fall in love with the defensive side of the ball after playing most of his pre-high school football on offense. And since coming to Sandy Creek, Jackson has uncovered a natural knack for defending the football, especially in space.
“I can say I’ve been improving my range lately,” he said. “I can turn and go get the ball while it’s in the air, and I can get up at its highest point and break it up.”
Such attributes, no doubt, are much of the reason why an influx of major college attention is coming his way.
Jackson said he wants to be the go-to person in Sandy Creek’s secondary. He patterns his game after Cleveland Browns corner Joe Haden and Arizona Cardinals free safety Tyrann Mathieu, whom you may remember as “The Honey Badger” from his college playing days at LSU.
“I like those guys because they can play safety or corner,” Jackson said. “They’re versatile, and they can tackle, especially in open space.”
The rising senior with a grade point average that hovers around 3.0, said he knows that with more attention comes greater pressure to perform. But he’s ready. And despite his early-career desire to play offense, he has no intentions of abandoning his new love.
“Nah, I’m not going back to offense,” he said. “I like the defensive side now. Much more contact. I like to tackle.”
Sandy Creek safety Javon Jackson’s 2014 highlight reel: