Yet, after battling leg injuries throughout his junior year, SLB Lee Jackson realized his toe injury would be even more detrimental. After playing in only the North Carolina game, Jackson would be relegated to a sideline participant for the remainder of the season, starting with Texas' game at Houston.
It hurt more than he let on.
"Before the (Houston) game last year, coach said he'd let me get a couple of snaps to see how it was," Jackson recalled, "and then not playing at all…" Jackson's voice trails off before continuing. "After the game, it was eating me alive," he said. "I was tired of being hurt and being on the sideline watching my teammates play. No one saw me crying. I started crying coming out of the locker room after the game and when I got on the bus I put my head down and put my headphones on."
After starting 14 games as a sophomore, Jackson would start but two contests the following season after pulling a hamstring against Stanford. Consistent leg injuries limited his action to five games during his junior campaign.
Those who know Jackson understand he has been strengthened by his Christian faith during his seasons of bitter disappointment. His Bible is always in his back pocket, he said, and he attends a Bible study every Wednesday at his church.
"Without Him, I am lost," Jackson said, "so I've got to have Him directing me at all times and keeping my hopes and my faith alive."
Jackson never doubted God's presence during his personal trials, but rather sought to discover the bigger picture beyond the narrow scope of his physical limitations.
"I never questioned God," he said, "but I asked Him questions about what's really going on and about why I was going through all this. But it's slowly coming to me that He left me behind (for a fifth year) for this team this year. There's something special about this team. I think we're going to have a special year this year. Otherwise, I'd be gone."
The same can be said about Jackson, according to his head coach.
"I really think this is going to Lee's year," Mack Brown said, adding that he thought Jackson's best game of his career came last Saturday at North Carolina (8 tackles).
Jackson's 17 tackles on the young season (6 solo) trails only fellow linebackers Reed Boyd (20) and Derrick Johnson (21). Jackson has also contributed a fumble recovery, one sack and four quarterback pressures during the first two games.