Auburn's Jackson makes others better

AUBURN - T.J. Jackson's teammates are quick to offer up the dirt on the Auburn noseguard.

He's loud, he eats fast — while still talking — he sings in a high-pitched opera voice, he likes snacks and ice cream. Easy going and fun to be around, Jackson rarely meets a stranger. He's always talking, always laughing. It's easy to picture Jackson glad-handing strangers and kissing babies en route to winning some election one day in the not-too-distant future. He has that kind of likeability coupled with a knowledge of issues. Defensive tackle Wayne Dickens says he'll vote for Jackson, but back-up noseguard Josh Thompson says political office will have to wait.

"I think he's going to make himself a good little career in the NFL," Thompson said.

That's because on the field Jackson is a different type of person. Gone is the fun-loving friend to all. Once he lines up, he brings an intensity people don't always see. That's the one thing his position coach, Don Dunn, said gets overlooked.

"I don't think you can always see his intensity on the field from the stands," Dunn said.

Jackson will need to be at his best Saturday night when No. 15 Auburn (7-2, 5-1 in SEC) travels to play No. 9 Georgia. The game will have huge implications in the race to reach the SEC Championship game. Both teams need to win out for the opportunity.

Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 311-pound former Opelika (Ala.) High standout, has 33 tackles, including four for a loss and half a quarterback sack. He has three quarterback hurries and a pass deflection, and should be able to equal or better his career high of 51 tackles and 2 sacks from last year.

T.J. Jackson made a key third-down tackle against Mississippi two weeks ago on a Tigers goal line stand. Auburn held on fourth down and swung momentum its way again.

However, statistics alone don't show Jackson's value.

"They have to double team him," Dickens said. "If they try to let one guy try and block him, he's going to destroy him about every play. He made it so much easier on me. I'm not facing a lot of double teams."

With opponents double-teaming Jackson, it often creates more one-on-one situations for Dickens and Auburn's speedy ends. Jackson sums up his intensity easily. It's about his teammates.

"Guys loving each other and playing for each other — that's what football is about," Jackson said. "People see X's and O's, but to go out there and sweat for your brother, that's what it's all about."

Jackson has become one of Auburn's top leaders on defense and he's often taking the other defensive linemen under his wings. While eating dinner with the linemen, he takes care to find out what's going on in their lives.

"It's like the commercials with the family eating at the table and the dad's going, 'Well, Tommy, what are you doing?' That's kind of what I'm doing," Jackson said. "I see what's going on with them, try to keep guys laughing. If you can do that, you can be successful."

That leadership ability has been noted by others on the team and appreciated.

"He's a great leader," Thompson said. "He really leads the team, really leads the d-line. He'll let you know when you're doing something wrong, but he'll also embrace you and let you know when you're doing stuff right."

While Jackson is vocal away from the field, Dickens said he's much quieter and intent on the field.

"He doesn't talk as much as I do on the field," Dickens said. "He just kicks them in the butt and talks afterward."

Jackson takes it all in stride. Former Auburn defensive linemen DeMarco McNeil and Spencer Johnson pulled him aside and told him about being a leader, Jackson said.

"That's one of the things they told me I needed to do," Jackson said. "One of the hugest things is trying to produce on the field and be a good guy off the field."

Jackson pulls it off.

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