Coming off a solid junior season where he rushed for 956 yards and 13 touchdowns while scoring 14 overall touchdowns, Jackson was finally going to be out of the shadow of former prep teammate and University of Wisconsin recruit Melvin Gordon, and going to have an opportunity to shine for one of the top high school programs of the state.
He was the star – for almost a whole half – until he became the story. At the end of a run that put him at 160 rushing yards and nearly gave him a third touchdown, Jackson knew the pop in his knee when he hit the ground wasn't good.
"When I was in the hospital and the MRI came back to confirm it was torn, I called Coach Bielema still in tears crying to ask him how he felt about it," said Jackson. "I was worried if I could keep my scholarship."
Bielema – who has been through two ACL reconstructions himself – put all of Jackson's fears to rest, which allowed him and the UW staff to lock up one of the best running backs in the Midwest.
Jackson – a four-star prospect that ended up ranked No.28 in the country by Scout.com - finds himself on campus and in good spirits on national signing day, going through rehabilitations with the UW medical staff in hopes of being ready for the 2012 football season.
While he joins his teammates in every strength drill during winter conditioning, Jackson spends the running portions off to the side working on strengthening his knee.
"The summer is the main goal (to be 100 percent)," Jackson said. "The furthest I'll go in the spring are non-contact drills. I have a brace now, but I was told I can take it off in the fall if I want to … I can already see the definition coming back in my leg. It feels really good to start running again."
When Jackson runs, he definitely shines. Camping with Wisconsin in past season, Jackson, according to Bielema, ran one of the fastest times UW has had in its summer camps. He proved more than that on the field, being elected a team captain his senior year and being a motivator on Kenosha Bradford's journey to its first WIAA state championship.
"I like the way he approaches things," said running back coach Thomas Hammock. "He has a real workman-like mentality. He works hard on the field, works hard in school and does things right. Football is important to him, and that's what you want – guys that love football and want to be the best players they can be."
With Jackson and senior Montee Ball returning to the group, Hammock will have upwards of five capable running backs that could carry an offense that is currently in need of a quarterback.
"There's definitely going to be a lot of competition in the group and you have to love competition if you are going to play this sport," said Jackson. "It makes everyone better. I am going to be able to learn from Montee Ball – a Heisman Trophy finalist – but the goal is to be better than Montee Ball."
His road to Madison didn't exactly follow the playbook, but Jackson isn't complaining about now being a part of one of the country's richest running back traditions.
"I am a firm believer in faith and that everything happens for a reason," said Jackson. "I tore my ACL, and I am going to look for the positives in it. It's going to make me hungry to play, it's going to make me a better play and it's going to help me with the mental part of it."
Vonte Jackson -