On a day when Tennessee’s beleaguered offensive line constantly allowed visitors into the backfield, a certain rising junior saw a prime opportunity to help.
Drake Jackson, Scout’s No. 1-rated center prospect for the 2016 class, was one of many high-profile recruits in Knoxville on Saturday to see the Volunteers take on Southeastern Conference Eastern Division rival Florida Gators in Neyland Stadium.
“Well, the gameday experience was something I’ve never seen before,” Jackson told InsideTennessee. “I mean, 103,000 screaming fans was awesome, and the way they were able to get that checkerboard pattern (together) was really cool to see.”
Though the Big Orange clearly faltered on the scoreboard, they hit a home run in terms of entertainment. Despite the noon kickoff, Tennessee built quite the atmosphere with intermittent cameos from rapper Lil Jon on the Jumbotron, the now-well-known “Third Down for What?” injections, and the impressive checkerboard homage represented in the stands.
In terms of the actual game, however, the 6-foot-2, 284-pounder can empathize with the Vols’ struggles along the offensive interior.
“They’ve got five brand-new starters this year, so they’re looking for experience and that’s something that nobody really has right now,” Scout’s No. 85 player overall said. “Coming in, if I come here, I’m not gonna play right away. I’ve got to fight for it, but that’s just gonna make it all better.”
According to the top-rated junior, Tennessee offensive line coach Don Mahoney has spearheaded the Vols’ efforts for him thus far.
“I talk to coach Mahoney. That’s the guy I stay in contact with. He’s a really cool guy, he’s super laid-back. I like the way he coaches and he’s a real nice guy,” Jackson said. “He likes me as a center. Centers, they look for a high I.Q., good base, good knowledge of the game. That’s what he’s seen from my film, that’s what he’s seen when he watches me play, so that’s what he tells me.”
While second year coach Butch Jones has managed to reel in top talent at the skill positions, a lineman of Jackson’s caliber would prove to be just as potent a weapon. The Vols have been soundly beaten up front all season long and landing quality players such as Jackson would go a long way in improving that group.
Offensive line has clearly been an emphasis on the recruiting trail this year as the Vols have four blockers committed: Venzell Boulware (three-star), Chance Hall (three-star), Jack Jones (four-star) and Zach Stewart (three-star).
The Woodford County (Ky.) star lineman contends he “would love to” make it to Rocky Top for another visit this season. After Tennessee’s game Saturday, the four-star prospect was heading directly to Lexington, Kentucky, for Kentucky’s game against South Carolina.
Jackson’s top group, at this juncture, consists of Alabama, Kentucky, Ohio State and Tennessee.