T.J. Jackson took the slight personally, and said many of his teammates did, too, and used it as motivation to knock off the Wildcats 20-10 in Alexander City last Friday night despite a great game by Auburn verbal commitment, linebacker Tyrone Martin. Jackson says that 20-10 victory will give the Bulldogs a jump-start going into the Class 6A playoffs. Opelika will entertain Mary Montgomery on Friday night.
"Everybody counted us out last week," Jackson says. "We were really ready for that game. Fired-up isn't even the word. I kind of enjoyed being the underdog. It makes you play even harder. It was like the Auburn-Florida game when Auburn played so hard. I was happy to see them win. That was a lot of fun. I was down on the field celebrating with everybody else."
Even though he likes the Tigers, the Auburn staff still has work to do in recruiting such a high profile prospect, which was also the case with his 2000 teammate, linebacker Lemarcus Rowell. "I have been offered by Auburn, LSU, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Alabama and Southern Miss," Jackson says. "I have set up an official visit to Auburn on Jan. 18th and to Georgia Tech on the 5th of January. I like Coach McWhorter who is recruiting me for Georgia Tech. I am getting ready to set one up with LSU but have not gotten in touch with the coach there because I have been going to a study group in the evenings for my AP (advanced placement) English class. I will set up one with Alabama and probably set up the last visit with Georgia."
When asked if he has a current favorite, Jackson says he is trying to keep an open mind, but adds, "Well, I do like the coaches at Auburn--Coach (Tommy) Tuberville and Coach (Joe Whitt). Actually, I love the whole coaching staff. Coach (Don, defensive tackles) Dunn and Coach (Terry, defensive ends) Price are real good, too. Everytime I see them I feel real welcome." Jackson says he also likes the coaches at Georgia Tech and defensive line coach Pete Jenkins at LSU, who held the same position at Auburn.
Opelika Coach Spence McCracken has another strong and deep team that finished the regular season 9-1 with the only loss to Central of Phenix City. McCracken's players normally specialize in offense or defense, but the 6-2 1/4, 285-pounder is an exception. He is the star blocker at offensive tackle in addition to patrolling the middle of the defense at tackle.
"I probably play every snap except on the punt returns and some games I sit out one or two series," Jackson says. Jackson is averaging better than 10 tackles per game and is expected to be a serious contender for the state's Mr. Football Award.
Jackson, who has started on offense for three years, has been a two-way starter the past two seasons at defensive tackle. He is one of the strongest high school players around. He benches 385 pounds and uses that strength to manhandle opponents. He runs a 4.9 40, but more importantly he is extremely quick. He will remind Auburn fans of a healthy and taller version of defensive tackle DeMarco McNeil. At the Capital City Combine in Montgomery earlier this year, he was exceptional in agility drills.
If everybody on his team had played like Jackson, the Bulldogs would still be unbeaten. He had 21 tackles in the loss to Central. He said although it was disappointing, that game has proven beneficial. "It opened our eyes," he says. "It showed us that we needed to play better."
Jackson, who plays the game with passion, says he hopes the Bulldogs get to run into Daphne again during the state playoffs. That team upset the Bulldogs 3-2 in a driving rainstorm last year. "I am ready for that game. I don't really like Daphne at all," he says. "They showed their form after they won...I was ready to knock the wall down after that. Whatever it takes, we want to beat Daphne. I am going to play my heart out that game."
Tiger Ticket Extra: When asked what he does best as a football player, Jackson says, "I would say it would be stopping the run. The linebackers are supposed to make more tackles than the linemen, but I like to get after the ball carrier and have him tackled before the linebackers have a chance to get there. I think I have good technique and know how to read and find the ball when it is snapped. At Opelika we take pride on being able to stop the run and to be able to run the football. We play physical football and I like that."...Jackson is considered one of the favorites to win the state heavyweight wrestling title and the OHS baseball coach wants him to play that sport in the spring because Jackson is a serious power hitter. "Coach Hightower was watching me hit balls over the fence one day," Jackson says.
Jackson says he is very aware that Auburn is looking for help on the defensive front. "When I come to college I am going to work my butt off and try my best to impress the coaches and help the team. I want to let them know that I want to win as much as they do. I want a national championship. Something that impressed me the most about Coach Tuberville is that he said this year they are not going to win the national championship but in a few years they are. I am telling you, that is all right with me." If he comes to Auburn, Jackson will get a chance to play with Parade All-American Rowell, who has been cleared academically. "Lemarcus is my buddy. We go way back. I have been playing with him since I was in the seventh grade and he was in the eighth." Jackson, who plans to major in psychology or international business, says that he is in great shape academically with his grades and already has a qualifying ACT score so he won't have to worry about the NCAA Clearinghouse.