I said to myself, "OK, he looks the part, but I don't remember Santa Fe having a player to watch. Can he play?"
On his first pass route, Jackson comes firing off the line, plants at twelve yards out, bursts out of his inside cut, and snatches the ball out of the air for a two-point score (passing league rules). Wow.
I introduced myself to him after the game, and found out he was going to be a senior this year, and made a note to myself to call Santa Fe and find out why exactly I hadn't heard of a player of this caliber this late in the summer.
As it turns out, he hasn't always been a player of this caliber. He's had to work extraordinarily hard to get to the place he was once destined.
"He was part of a freshman class that when I saw him, I thought we had a future USC/Notre Dame guy," said Santa Fe assistant coach Robert Costa. "He could really run and was already at such a good size, and he had phenomenal hands. When he came back from our three-week summer break, the next time I saw him, he was in the back of his dad's car with an IV in his leg, and his leg was just shattered. There was serious doubt about him ever walking again."
There was serious doubt
"I was riding one day on a bike with my little nephew," said Andrew Jackson. "We were going to the store. There's a big church on the corner, and you can't see around the corner; so cars peek out to make a right turn. A guy came, and he was peeking out as I was crossing the street on a green light. When I was crossing the street, I got hit. For a second, it seemed like that was it. Then I could hear him panic and hit the gas, and he ran over my leg."
Jackson said it was a young guy at the wheel of the car who stopped after the accident, but the damage by his momentary lapse of judgment had already been done.
"Both the tibia and fibula broke (the two bones in the lower leg)," said Jackson. "I went into surgery the same day. I was in traction for maybe a week or two, and they ran pins into my leg. I had a lot of swelling still, so I had another surgery to release the pressure. I had a big gash in my leg. They put a sponge inside of my leg to leave it open, so they'd come and clean it almost every day. I had about seven or eight surgeries, and now I have a metal rod inside of it."
As with any traumatic injury, there can be collateral damage.
"After all of this, I ended up having another surgery, because the tendon in my big toe ended up being so strong that it was bending my big toe down. They did another surgery where they released the tendon in my foot then fused it. Ever since then, I've just been doing my work."
Doctors are notorious for painting the most grim picture and setting patients expectations low, but in this case, it wasn't just the doctors that had doubts about Jackson's future. Jackson may have been the only one who showed no doubt.
"They told me I'd never run again," said Jackson. "But I'm up and running, and I'm running fast now."
Costa was equally upset having seen the damage done to Jackson's leg.
"For me, I was just sick. I could never tell him that his future was gone," said Costa. "He had a dream of playing wide receiver. All we could do is encourage him and tell him, 'Look you're going to have to get the mobility back and do everything you can to get the mobility back to play'. We even encouraged him to play basketball, because he's a great basketball player."
That Jackson only missed one year of competitive sports before being back on the field again is a miracle in itself, but only the first few chapters of Jackson's career have been written. His senior year is only the beginning of Jackson's comeback story.
"Freshman year he completely missed football," said Costa. :Sophomore year, he ended up playing, but he didn't have the mobility he used to and didn't play wide receiver. After his sophomore year of football, he played basketball (Jackson averaged a double/double), and it really did an amazing job adding to his mobility. Last year (Jackson's junior season), he was able to play varsity football, but mostly defensive end, and he was getting frustrated."
Jackson agreed with the timetable of his progression.
"Sophomore year I was running pretty slow," said Jackson. "I wasn't able to play receiver my sophomore year because of my speed."
Just seeing their child on the field again after such a dramatic recovery must have been thrilling and terrifying at the same time. Were his parents nervous when he took the field again?
"No, they weren't nervous," said Jackson. "They were more nervous about me getting on a bike again," Jackson added with a soft laugh. "The doctors say that the leg I hurt is actually stronger than my other leg now."
After fighting through a frustrating sophomore and junior campaign, everything started to click again for Jackson.
"My junior year, I was getting stronger and faster, and that's the year it started progressing. That's when I started getting my cuts back and everything back. Going into the offseason, everything started loosening up and feeling way better."
Costa said that he noticed the difference as well.
"Really he just continued to work and he had an incredible offseason. He
set the power clean record here at Santa Fe. So he became a guy that that was
running a 4.5, cleaning 300 and at 6-3+, and he can jump. This summer is the
best we've seen him."
Jackson has already faced more adversity in his career than the vast majority of players that he will compete against on the next level. What has he learned from the experience?
"I've just learned that I can't give up. Football is in me, and I'm in football. My goal is to make it all the way through. I keep my mind straight on that and not on my injury. I just work out hard, as if I push the weight and the weight don't push me; that's my saying."
Jackson's junior season won't do justice to the progress he has made and what he's capable of as a senior, but there are still several coaches that saw enough progress last year that they know they want to see more.
"I've talked to Nevada, San Diego State; the UCLA coach came down and watched me practice, so did the coach from Arizona State. "I'd say I'm interested in all of those schools, because they have good exposure. All the schools are just telling me 'We're watching you; have a great season, We're scouting you," and for me to call them."
Costa has been fortunate enough to witness the complete transformation of Jackson, from can't miss youngster, to season over, to a player just getting back to where he should have been. As good as Jackson has become, Costa is convinced Jackson is only scratching the surface.
"I still think the potential is there to go much further, because he was so smooth as a freshman." Having seen his work ethic where every year he gets better and better, I didn't think he'd ever play receiver again, and he's made me a believer. His will and determination have really taken him to the next level. The sky's the limit."
I didn't know about Andrew Jackson because of the incredible adversity he's overcome. I knew about Andrew Jackson by scouting a Santa Fe passing league and seeing a receiver that should be recruited by every team in the country.
While Jackson is blessed with size and athleticism, he persevered in the face of extraordinary hardship in order to regain the gifts that easily could have been lost forever.