MCGILL: Skilled at computers and math, Jackson finds solution at corner
The Word on the Herd -- Oct. 20, 2016
By Chuck McGill
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – In the twilight of Marshall’s loss to the University of Pittsburgh, true freshman cornerback Chris Jackson stood in front of a set of aluminum bleachers on the Heinz Field sidelines, hands fixed to his waist, in disbelief.
“It’s a lonely life out there at corner,” said Chuck Heater, MU’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach this week.
Soon, though, the youngster wasn’t alone. One by one, Jackson’s teammates came up to him as the final seconds ticked off the clock. A pat on the helmet. An arm slung around the shoulder. A few words of encouragement.
“It shows that, especially with the older guys, they’re really supportive and they know it’s hard for a true freshman to play,” Jackson said. “They’ve been in that spot before.”
Jackson, who is 6 feet tall and 168 pounds, has started all six games for the Herd. That is a daunting assignment for a first-year player, and teams have targeted the collegiate rookie early and often. Sometimes, like after a 54-yard touchdown pass sealed the game for Pitt, Jackson needed a pick-me-up.
“The whole season has been a learning process for me,” Jackson said, “and I’ve just been building on each game and overcoming adversity.
“Teams went after me early, but I feel a lot different,” he added. “I’m starting to build a lot more confidence in the game. It’s just starting to slow down for me and come to me.”
That showed in last Saturday’s win against Florida Atlantic, a game in which Jackson recorded his first interception, first tackle for a loss and first sack. He will look to continue to build on that performance this Saturday when Charlotte visits for a 5:30 p.m. game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“It tells you what kind of kid that kid is,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said this week. “There’s nobody who could have had a rougher start than he did but he didn’t flinch. He went through a lot of adversity. There’s a lot of kids today that wouldn’t be able to get themselves out of that hole and he did.
“That’s what good players do,” Holliday added. “They continue to develop and eliminate the noise.”
Jackson had to do plenty of that as the Herd lost four consecutive games and played a pair of Power Five schools: Louisville and Pitt. Marshall starts a senior and occasional captain, Rodney Allen, on the opposite side of the field, so Jackson becomes the focal point for opposing coordinators and quarterbacks.
If there is any player who can handle the heat, though, it is Jackson. The native of Tallahassee, Florida, was a wide receiver and safety in high school before enrolling at Marshall in January. He was a standout during spring football drills while his classmates finished their senior year of high school.
Jackson is not only a tremendous athlete with plenty of speed – he was Florida’s 110-meter hurdles state champion – but he is a confident and cerebral player. He has an affinity for math and computers, and wants to design computer software programs once his coverage days are done.
“In computer science you use a lot of numbers and football is a lot of angles and numbers,” Jackson said. “That helps.”
Jackson hasn’t treated his early-season struggles as a reason to wipe the slate clean. On the contrary, Jackson absorbs his miscues, studies them and prepares for the next time the situation presents itself. He doesn’t want to forget the struggles; he wants to channel them into becoming a better football player.
“He’s a very resilient guy; he’s a mentally tough guy,” Heater said. “He’ll have opportunities and he’ll probably not win every one of them. If you stay in there and keep fighting and you’re built the right way and wired the right way you use that stuff to make yourself better. He’s clearly done that.”