Sunday, December 17, 2017
Sports

Leopards LB Jackson's heart always in game

BROOKSVILLE — Jeremiah Jackson is too young to remember his uncle.

Jerome Brown — the former star defensive tackle for Hernando, Miami and the Eagles — died before Jackson was born.

But Jackson remembers the first time he watched his uncle on film, playing for the top-ranked Hurricanes. Brown bum-rushed an offensive guard, cut back and sacked Penn State's quarterback.

When Jackson saw Brown celebrating for the cameras and pumping up his team on the Fiesta Bowl sidelines, he had an idol.

"From that moment, I was like, 'Dang," " Jackson said. "My uncle was the man. He was a beast. Every time I step on the field, I want to play like that."

Hernando's senior linebacker has had a prep career to make his late uncle proud. He's undersized, but still finds ways to slam his 210-pound body into linemen and running backs.

Jackson has racked up 259 tackles — 541/2 for a loss. He has also rushed for 1,200 yards and 13 touchdowns, but he has made his biggest imprint as a tenacious tackler and the heart of one of the North Suncoast's top defenses heading into tonight's game at Citrus.

"First play of the game, he makes the first tackle, everybody gets excited," senior linebacker KD Hagood said. "That's when everybody gets clicking."

Jackson's love for football came naturally, and his talent and passion were evident immediately. After Jackson watched his older brother, Fabian, become a productive running back for the Leopards, he started throwing himself at opponents during pickup games on the side.

"I guess he just inherited it," said his father, Faith Jackson.

Jackson was one of only two sixth-graders to start at Parrott Middle School. He remembers running down the field on one of his first kickoffs and launching himself at the returner. The blow knocked out Jackson's ear pads and his opponent's mouthpiece.

Coaches asked him if he was okay. Jackson wanted to do it again.

"He always was a very hard hitter," said Hernando coach Dwayne Mobley, who also coached Jackson in middle school.

Three years later, he started every varsity game as a freshman at Hernando and recorded 71 tackles to help Hernando to its first playoff appearance in five years.

The next season, he gave Hagood a rude welcome to the varsity team. During an early practice, he lifted his teammate off the ground so hard he nearly knocked his cleats off.

"I'm not running against linebackers that hit as hard as him," Hagood said.

Jackson's hard hitting helped him blossom into a back-to-back all-North Suncoast performer. He was banged up as a sophomore but still totaled 700 rushing yards and four sacks. Last fall, he ranked among the area's leaders with 132 tackles, including 16 in a crucial, rivalry victory over Nature Coast.

Jackson credits watching Brown's Hurricanes for his intensity. Brown was an All-American player and trash talker before he was killed in a car crash in 1992, and Jackson loved emulating what he saw on old clips. He has watched and rewatched ESPN's 30 for 30 special, The U. He pulls up former Miami stars like Ray Lewis or Sean Taylor on YouTube to pump himself up.

"It's just something about hard-nosed football that I love," Jackson said.

Jackson's collegiate future is limited by his size. He was the linebacker MVP for the 'Canes at a camp a few years ago, but he hasn't grown past 6 feet. His closest offer to UM is UMass.

But wherever he ends up, Jackson promises to act the same way he does now: Hit hard, spark his team and play with the swagger of his iconic uncle.

"When I get my team, I want them to be rowdy," Jackson said. "I want them hyped. … I want everybody to know we're not scared of y'all."

Matt Baker can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @MattHomeTeam.

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