Cooks' Most Trusted
Last year, Notre Dame knew its defense was going to be strength of its team. Even so, there were question marks in the secondary. Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks was starting a true freshman and a player originally recruited to the Irish to play offense. Fast forward one year, and the latter of those players described above, Bennett Jackson, is now on the watch list for the 19th-annual Bednarik Award, is coming off a 13-start, four-interception season, and was just named captain of one of the most talented and experienced defenses in the country. The lone senior in the secondary who will exhaust his eligibility after this year, Jackson represents what patience, hard work, and coaching can do for you – in a college football culture with expectations that underclassmen who experience growing pains will translate to busted prospect. "Every young man that comes into this program has the desire to play early," Kerry Cooks said. "It takes them a while to grasp things are different at this level. I kept telling him (Jackson) that he was a very talented, smart player. He had to transition from offense to defense, so he had some fundamentals and things like that to get better at. And, he took it to heart. He saw Gary Gray, Robert Blanton and Darrin Walls work hard, pay attention and be detailed in the process, and he took it and ran with it. He's been awesome. He's worked on his game in every aspect." Though he didn't see much playing time his sophomore year, Jackson has experience in a variety of roles. "He's been through everything that they're (freshmen) going through now," Kerry Cooks said. "He's been a freshman that only played special teams. He's been in a backup role. He's been a guy that had to start his first game in a transition from a different position." Being able to relate to a number of scenarios the younger players will undoubtedly face is a primary reason Brian Kelly chose him as captain for the 2013 season. "Although I talk about the defensive side of the ball, he'll (Jackson) represent the entire football team," Kelly said. "We don't have captains that just represent one side. He interacts extremely well with all players, and to be a captain, you can't be just seen as somebody that just sits on one side of the ball. These are guys that interact with our entire football team. He's a young man that came in as an offensive player and now has established himself as a captain." "I think it's a great honor," Jackson said of captainship. "I was extremely excited when Coach told me. At the end of the day, nothing changes. I'm still the same guy, I just want to be there for them if they need me." "I think Bennett is everything that we ask our players to be," Cooks said. "For one, he leads by example the right way off the field and on the field. He's been a great example for what it takes to start off as a young guy and continue to develop and continue to strive. He's put himself in a position now to lead this team and lead this group and he's very deserving (of being captain)." Jackson will not merely provide leadership through his wisdom of off-the-field situations, but he'll be a sturdy fixture on the field as the main member of a deep secondary. "There's a lot more guys that understand what it takes," Jackson said. "With that said, it's easier to spread what we know to the younger guys and to the new guys filling position holes. We just understand a lot more of the game, speed and tempo. We are definitely able to add more checks, zone coverages and man coverages because everyone in general understands it better." From first-time starter to captain in 12 months, Jackson has had time to reflect on his growth. "My mindset was I was a little eager," Jackson said of getting the nod to start in game one last year. "We (Russell) didn't look at it as we needed to be protected. Because at the end of the day, you have to start somewhere. Going into this season, we are more comfortable. The eagerness is a little further away." More comfortable, less eager, and prepared to anchor the final third of the field, Jackson has combined last season's trial by fire with his willingness to learn as a young gun to presently factor in as one of the most integral pieces of Notre Dame's football team.
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