Practice makes perfect

Many football players hate practice. Many more merely endure it. Then there's one Tennessee signee who apparently can't get enough of it.

Marteze (pronounced mar-TEZ) Jackson was disappointed when he learned last August that his Demopolis (Ala.) High School team would be holding just one practice each morning in preparation for the 2009 season. He was so disappointed, in fact, that he and some other seniors decided to hold voluntary workouts in the evenings.

"We had two-a-days when we didn't even have a coach present," Jackson recalled by phone from his family home. "We had a mandatory morning workout, then we had a voluntary practice in the evening. We felt like we had to work even harder if we wanted a ring."

The strategy worked. Demopolis wound up going 12-3 and winning state championship rings by marching through the Class 5A playoffs. Clearly, those impromptu evening workouts in August paid dividends.

"Even the voluntary practices everybody showed up but one or two guys," Jackson recalled. "There wasn't any of that selfish stuff. Coach (Tom Causey) had some business that kept him from coming to some of the practices but he started showing up after he found out about them. Some assistant coaches came out, too."

Just as hard work paid off in a state title for Demopolis High, hard work has paid off for Marteze Jackson. Since beginning his senior season as a 6-foot-2, 215-pound defensive end, he has grown into a 6-foot-3, 234-pounder. In the process, he became just about unblockable.

"Playing defensive end I was going against guys weighing 280 or 300 pounds," he recalled. "I played one guy from Selma who was 320. They moved him out from guard to tackle just to block me but it didn't work. We beat that team something like 60-0."

Jackson has more going for him than a muscular 234-pound frame, however. He has explosive speed for his size. He proved as much this spring as part of a championship-caliber Demopolis High 4x100 relay unit.

"We had the fastest time in the state for Class 5A," he recalled, "but we had a bad hand-off in the state meet that cost us."

Jackson's sprinter speed enabled him to register 26 of his 38 senior-season tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Eleven of these were sacks. Twenty-five of his 54 tackles as a junior were for lost yardage, as well, including 17 sacks.

Jackson hints that his success as a pass rusher is more mental than physical.

"What makes me a good pass rusher is really focusing on what the guy's doing in front of me," he said. "Once you realize what the guy in front of you is doing, you can pick up key moves and know what's coming. Most offensive linemen do a certain step when they're going to pass block."

Jackson's explosiveness earned him recognition as the Defensive Line MVP at the U.S. Army All-America Junior Combine in 2008. Still, he attracted so little interest from major-college recruiters that he committed to a small school from his home state that was just starting a football program.

"I was committed to South Alabama," he recalled, "and they didn't even have a team yet."

One major-college program didn't overlook him, however, and that was Tennessee. The Vols were on his trail all along, despite two head coaching changes.

"I went from Coach Phil Fulmer to Coach Lane Kiffin to Coach Derek Dooley," Jackson said with a laugh. "I've been recruited by Tennessee a long time."

When he signed with the Big Orange last February, however, Jackson still caught a lot of flak from Alabama and Auburn fans about leaving the state. He couldn't care less.

"All I've got to say is, I already had a grudge against Alabama because they said I was too small," Jackson said. "And I got recruited by Auburn until the coach who recruited me (James Willis) left for Texas Tech."

Regardless, Vol linebackers coach Lance Thompson apparently liked what he saw in Jackson, which is why Tennessee came through with a scholarship offer last winter.

"I can adjust quickly in any game," Jackson said, "and I believe that's what Coach Lance Thompson first saw in me."

Most likely, Jackson will be adjusting to a linebacker spot in college. He says being a 'backer is nothing new, however.

"I'll likely play Sam (strong side) in college because I'm more of a speed guy off the edge," said Jackson, who plans to attend summer school at UT starting next week. "It ain't a hard transition. I made the transition from end to linebacker in the ninth grade, then I moved back to end in the 10th grade and stayed there.

"I feel like linebacker and defensive end are the same position except one has his hand down and doesn't have to worry much about pass coverage."

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