They heard about the strong arms of the quarterbacks, the speed of the wide receivers, and the depth in the backfield. But one area usually overlooked during the discussion of talent was specials teams – most especially the kicking game.
During the last two seasons, Chris Jackson has arguably proved himself to be one of the most versatile players on the team. Not only does he have the ability to be a starter on two highly competitive athletic teams (football and baseball), but his range of football prowess extends beyond one position.
Last season, Jackson handled long field goals, kick offs, and punting duties. The 2004 season proved to be a breakout year for the former River Ridge-John Curtis star as he converted 7 of 11 field goals from 40 yards or more, including a 53-yard field goal that ranks as the third longest in Tiger history. Jackson also averaged 40 yards per punt.
But this year the Tigers welcome a crop of fresh faces on special teams. Colt David and Patrick Fisher push Jackson and Ryan Gaudet for the starting jobs, competition Jackson welcomes.
"We're all for [the competition]," Jackson said, "whatever is best to help to the team."
Currently, Jackson handles punts when the Tigers are in their own territory and kicks field goals. Fisher works the remaining punts and David kicks extra points.
"It takes a little bit off my back not having to do three things all the time," Jackson said. "That is good for me, but even better for the team that we have somebody to go in there and do the job."
Although all four kickers must be conscious of the guys behind them, Jackson said they uplift and cheer one another both on and off the field.
"We go out and get our work done and we hang out, go to each others' places," Jackson said. "It's competition, but it's friendly competition. It's not like we're going out to try to sabotage another guy. It's real friendly."
Jackson's season started with a gutsy call. On the first punt of the game, the former high school quarterback faked a punt from the Tigers' own end zone throwing a 12-yard pass to Ronnie Prude for a first down.
Jackson said the decision to fake the punt was not called beforehand from the sideline, but rather a tactic the team has worked on during the offseason.
"That's part of our scheme that if they leave the gunner open outside we'll throw it to him," Jackson said. "It just so happened that we were backed up in our own end zone and it was the first punt of the game."
But Jackson's talent extends beyond the football field. During his days at John Curtis, Jackson was also a star on the Patriots state championship baseball team. Last spring, Jackson raised eyebrows at Alex Box Stadium landing the job as the Tigers' everyday starting third baseman. Rotating between spring drills at the Charles McClendon Football Practice Facility and the SEC baseball diamond, Jackson batted .305 with a home run and 17 RBIs, earning him Freshman All-SEC honors.
Despite being a starter on two teams, Jackson said he has learned to balance his two duties.
"Once the (NCAA Baseball) Regionals were over with, I went right into football full swing," he said. "I couldn't go play summer ball like most of the baseball players did."
Jackson skipped the summer baseball leagues to attend informal kicking practices with other members of the football team.
"I'm here on a football scholarship, so I have to take care of football first," he said, "and that's what I do."
With the added help this season, Jackson can now focus on specific areas of kicking, a situation that may have special teams coordinators across the SEC tossing in their sleep.
Versatile Jackson experiencing better focus
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