TAMPA — Plant football coach Robert Weiner went down the line of Panthers sitting at the table before him, introducing each player to the crowd at Wednesday night’s signing day ceremony. When he got to Alex “Buda” Jackson, though, he had to pause.
It was only a few months ago that Jackson, who had to sit out his entire junior season because of academic ineligibility, was unsure about his future in college football because of past mistakes.
So as Jackson prepared to sign his letter of intent for the Georgia Military College, Weiner’s eyes welled with tears as he spoke about all Jackson had overcome just to get there.
“It was a great opportunity to go through this. I never thought it would come,” Jackson said after the ceremony, at which seven football players and three soccer players signed. “It was just work. I just want to become a better man.”
Jackson was the starting slot receiver for Plant’s 2011 state championship team before missing the 2012 campaign. The 5-foot-8 athlete came back in 2013, Weiner said, with a renewed spirit. And with 1,199 total yards and 12 touchdowns — some of them game winners — Jackson helped propel the Panthers to a state semifinal finish.
Growing up in a single-parent home, Jackson said he has always looked to his cousin Javaris Carter as a father figure. Having guided Jackson through many of the obstacles that used to bring him down, Carter beamed with pride as he watched Jackson reach the goal that had once seemed far-fetched.
“It’s one of the best moments of my life,” Carter said. “I played football, so I kept him in the right state to do what he gotta do and handle his business like a young man.”
As part of Plant’s ceremony, the football coaches showed a highlight reel of the eight seniors who will play at the next level — including Ray Raulerson (Tennessee), Andrew Beck (Texas) and Austin Hudson (Wisconsin), all early enrollees.
The footage of Jackson’s lengthy touchdown runs jumped off the screen and drew reactions from those in attendance. Jackson has an “explosiveness”, Weiner said, that the Panthers will certainly miss.
But it’s not the only thing he’ll take with him when he leaves Plant behind.
“He’s a young man who always remembers where he comes from,” Weiner said, “but he’s going to carry that with him and transcend to something greater.”
DB Austin Hudson (early enrollee), Wisconsin
LB Andew Beck (early enrollee), Texas
OL Ray Raulerson (early enrollee), Tennessee
QB Colby Brown, Eastern Illinois
WR Alex “Buda” Jackson, Georgia Military College
OL Richard Bush, Princeton
DB Mazzi Wilkins, USF
DB Bernard Rogers, Toledo
Abby Sanchez, soccer, Eckerd College
Kendall Harmon, soccer, Stetson
Nastasia Asgedom, soccer, Virginia Tech