In an era where so many high-profile athletes transfer high schools to play on teams with stacked rosters adorned with stars that will maximum exposure, 2017 five-star offensive tackle Austin Jackson has stayed put.
Jackson has been at Phoenix (Ariz.) North Canyon through thick and thin, including his third head coach in four years this season. Through it, he has developed into a stalwart that his teammates follow without question.
“He's probably the best teammate you could ever play with. He's like another brother to me,” said 2018 four-star receiver Solomon Enis, the son of former Penn State legend and NFL running back Curtis Enis. “He’s just that leader. I just gravitate toward him. He's that stud guy that you want to be around and you want your team to be around.”
Jackson’s basketball coach, Michael O’Guinn, calls Jackson a goofy, fun-loving kid. He said Jackson has gone from a chubby, uncoordinated middle school hoopster that took up football as a freshman and transformed into a lean, mean 6-foot-5, 260 pounder. Jackson calls his progression “tremendous.” But it isn’t just what he’s able to do on Friday night that has grown. He believes his evolution as a person and as a leader who tries to learn every day has been just as important to his development.
His peers want to follow Jackson, but he also keeps things close to the vest. He stays out of the spotlight. He declines to speak to the media over the phone, though he is willing to talk in person. Most of his tweets are about his teammates and their exploits on the field.
“I keep the people that need to know [in the know],” Jackson said. “I stay away from the big flashy stuff. I've got stuff to do really. I appreciate it, but I've got to get down and focus on me and do what I've got to do.”
That insular focus has led his school to new successes this season.
North Canyon won one game last year. It was 0-11 the year before, scoring more than 10 points just four times. The Rattlers hadn’t won more than two games since 2011. This season they are 5-3, already matching the win total of their previous four seasons combined. That is partly due to their best player choosing to stay and try to create a legacy at North Canyon.
“I was a basketball kid growing up, so this is where I started and this is where I finish, in high school at least.”
“[The success] means a lot, but you still want to keep going,” Jackson said after a 24-12 loss to Scottsdale (Ariz.) Notre Dame Prep. “Losses like this still hurt and I think it hurts [for] the program as a whole. People don't brush it off. It's something they want to fight back for and continue for people that come through North Canyon for years on.
“I think [the success] definitely brought the program together as a family and gave it a bit more of a futuristic sight of what needs to be done and what they're fighting for.”
In the future for the Army All-American is four years of college and possibly even a professional career on the gridiron. What school those four years will be spent remains the lingering question. Jackson has his choice of high-profile schools from all over the country from national champion Alabama to Michigan, Miami to Notre Dame, Louisville to Texas A&M and the pick of the litter of Pac-12 school. Arizona and Arizona State would love to keep him in state while Jackson is a USC legacy with his grandfather having played on national championship teams during the John McKay era.
Jackson narrowed down his choices and has a pool of schools in his sights that he still wants to check out. He mentioned seven on Friday night: USC, Arizona State, Arizona, Washington, Nebraska, Texas A&M and Oregon. He also told Scout last week Michigan could be a potential landing spot for an official visit.
“I'm looking to see schools, officially and unofficially, and I want to make a choice by mid-January,” Jackson said. “I'll be able to fit in some unofficials and officials a little bit after the Army game, so that's something I looking forward to.”
The visit to USC will likely be an official visit, Jackson said. He’s eyeing the Trojans’ rivalry matchup with Notre Dame on November 26 as a potential game to attend. The No. 30 prospect in the 2017 class has an open line of communication with the USC coaching staff and stays in touch with multiple coaches.
“I talk to everybody. Coach [Clay] Helton, Coach [Neil] Callaway. I talk to the defensive line coach, Coach KU [Kenechi Udeze] a little bit. And I'm really close with a few of the offensive linemen commits. I know I talk to Brett Neilon it seems like almost every other day.”
There’s also one other Trojan that Jackson talks with — his grandfather.
“My grandfather played on two championship teams with John McKay and just the things that he was able to turn around over there and the things that he's made for himself. It’s a great legacy,” Jackson said. “But I know he and I want what's best for me. I know whatever I do, he's okay with that. I don't have to follow in his footsteps. He's behind me 100 percent.”
Instead, of necessarily pushing him to the Trojans, Jackson’s grandfather is suggesting academics hold the key to success.
“You know he has a lot of great advice on what I should be looking for in a school, interest levels, but right now with me and him, we're just focused on hitting what we can do academically and what these schools are offering.”
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