Jordan Jackson deflected a pass, scooped up the ball and started toward the end zone like there was no tomorrow.
“I was hoping it was (a live ball),” Jackson said. “I was ready for a touchdown.”
Turns out, Jackson had batted a forward pass and the officials quickly blew it dead. But as for those tomorrows, the Air Force freshman need not worry. He has plenty of them.
The 6-foot-5, 255-pound (he was 265 before entering basic training 2 ½ months ago) defensive end showed why he’s an emerging factor on the Falcons’ defense on a pair of plays. First, he bull rushed a VMI tackle and pressured the quarterback into a quick throw on third and long, leading to a punt. Second, he got around the end and deflected the pass in question.
Jackson has already worked his way up to the second team. Air Force officially lists Ryan Darby as the backup to Santo Coppola, but Darby was largely rotating in at defensive tackle Saturday.
“He’s had a lot of work, you’ve seen it, each day out there (in practice),” said coach Troy Calhoun, whose program rarely plays freshmen unless there’s a desperate need or a special player – Jalen Robinette and Ryan Watson are examples of who played in their first year over the past five years, and both went on to standout careers. “We’ve got to keep getting him stronger.”
Calhoun, using a tone of voice to accentuate his point, said Jackson had a “good year,” at the prep school last season after choosing the Falcons over a slew of options that included Columbia in the Ivy League, Navy among service academies and Appalachian State among recent bowl teams.
“What was even more impressive, quite frankly, was how well he did academically down there,” Calhoun said of the Jacksonville, Fla., native and graduate of The Bolles School. “Went to an excellent high school and was one of the top students on our team down there at the prep school.”
Jackson formed a strong friendship with Lakota Wills at the prep school. Wills, an outside linebacker, was the only other freshman to suit up in Air Force’s 62-0 victory on Saturday. He made three tackles.
“That’s one of my good friends from the prep school last year,” Jackson said of Wills. “So it’s good to be able to play with him and talk to him all the time.”
Jackson has another connection to the defense, having played alongside sophomore linebacker Kyle Johnson in high school under coach Corky Rogers, the winningest high school coach in Florida who earned 10 state titles in 28 seasons with Bolles. Johnson, who is pushing for a second-team spot among middle linebackers, was with Air Force last year while Jackson was at the prep school.
“It’s kind of weird,” Jackson said of his experience at the prep school. “You don’t get to talk to the guys (at the academy) much, but when the time comes you know you’re going to get to be a part of the brotherhood.”
That time came in the first opportunity for Jackson, whose mother came from Florida to witness it. Jackson credited the upperclassmen – particularly Coppola – for making “sure I know where I’m going and I don’t mess up the little things.”
Jackson said he’s excited to continue lifting weights to make up for the six weeks of training lost to basic training. He was excited to briefly get his hands on the football. He’s just eager, about today and all those tomorrows.
“I’m excited,” he said on the field in the moments following his first game in an Air Force uniform. “Being able to come out here and play today. I’m just excited to see what happens.”