April 21, 2012

Jackson eager to prove he's still the same guy

Texas outside linebacker Tevin Jackson was used to dictating the terms. Whether it was stuffing the run or stuffing quarterbacks, he was the guy laying down the law.

Then he got word from the NCAA that there was an issue with his transcript coming out of Garland High School, and the word was he would be ruled academically ineligible as a freshman at Texas in 2010.

Jackson's world came temporarily off the rails.

HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? Everyone was stunned. Jackson is a good student. He was a four-year member of the "A/B Honor Roll" at Garland. He's got a strong mother and father with older brothers who played college football.

Oldest brother Everett played offensive lineman at Texas A&I. Second-oldest brother Keelan played strong safety at Texas A&M from 2001-04.

To add to his frustration, Jackson was still recovering from breaking his wrist in the U.S. Army All-American game in the spring of 2010, requiring surgery. Jackson had been tearing it up in the U.S. Army game before the injury, posting five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.

BOUNCING BACK: "He's overcome a lot to get down there," Jackson's high school coach at Garland - Jeff Jordan - told Orangebloods.com. "From breaking his wrist in the all-star game to the NCAA eligibility stuff.

"I've been real proud of him because it would have been real easy for him to throw his hands up and give up and not continue to battle through.
"But he's done good academically, and they tell me he's done well on the field, too. He's a very talented young man."

Jackson played in 12 games as a freshman at Texas in 2011 with two fumble recoveries on special teams to go with four tackles. He had to wait his turn behind senior linebackers Keenan Robinson and Emmanuel Acho.

But Jackson is now 6-2 and 230 pounds and got the chance to show coaches what he's got when outside linebacker Demarco Cobbs missed the first half of spring with a neck injury suffered away from the football field.

"Tevin plays with a lot of suddenness," said defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who also serves as the linebackers coach. "He uses his hands well. He has a good knack of rushing the quarterback. So Tevin has a feel for the game."

ROOM TO IMPROVE: That's the good news. The tough news is Tevin needs to make the most of the summer and fall camp to prove to coaches that he can consistently utilize his talents by executing the plays called. If he does, he could be a specialty linebacker in passing situations.

Diaz said Jackson, Kendall Thompson and Aaron Benson all showed flashes during the spring of being playmakers. But they blew some assignments as well.

"They'll show up in the right spot on one play and then go left when they should have gone right on the next play," Diaz said. "That's my job, and it just comes with at-bats. That's what spring ball was all about - getting at-bat, after at-bat after at-bat and learning what intensity they'll need to survive.

"It's hard to drive the car as fast as you can drive when you're not real sure where you're going."

BATTLING FOR PLAYING TIME: Cobbs came back from the neck injury over the second half of spring ball and proved to coaches he's a difference maker.

"What Demarco showed when he hopped back in there was he was ahead based on the reps he got last spring, the reps he had gotten through the fall when he was with us," Diaz said. "He's a bright young man. Football is very important, and obviously he's very athletic. Loves the game.

"He's a joy to coach. He hit the ground running. When he's in there, it changes our defense in terms of athleticism."

So the challenge to Tevin Jackson is to prove he can play outside linebacker well enough to sub in for Cobbs or Jordan Hicks and not allow for much, if any, dropoff. Jeff Jordan said Jackson is up for the challenge.

"He brings explosiveness," Jordan said of Jackson. "He's a very powerful player. He can explode through people. He's got a great first step. He's got a real knack for rushing the passer. He makes dynamic plays."

FIRST IMPRESSION: Jordan recalls former Texas receivers coach Bobby Kennedy's reaction upon seeing Jackson for the first time against Rowlett Jackson's junior year at Garland in 2009.

"Two plays in a row, Tevin destroys the offensive tackle, goes up, lights up the quarterback and makes huge, big-time plays," Jordan said. "Bobby (Kennedy) walked over and was like, 'Wow, who's that?' I said, 'He's a junior.' And one thing led to another, and before you knew it, everybody knew about him."

Jordan described Jackson's personality on and off the field.

"On the field, he plays with an edge," Jordan said. "He's very physical, very aggressive and very tough. He's a great kid off the field. He's quiet when he's around adults. But when he's around his friends and around his buddies, he's pretty funny. He's a cut-up."

STRONG WORK ETHIC: Garland assistant head coach Darrin Sharp, who has known Jackson his whole life, said the most impressive thing about Jackson is his work ethic.

"He hits the weight room and goes 100 percent," Sharp said. "He's not much of a slacker. He can be very, very intense. He uses his hands real well on the defensive side of the ball."

Sharp said when Jackson learned of the transcript issue making him ineligible at Texas as a freshman he was devastated.

"I've known Tevin all his life, and he's always been good in the classroom," Sharp said. "But we talked, and I told him he had to keep working.

"Texas said as long as he took care of his business, the scholarship would still be there. He kept his faith and did what he needed to do, and it's worked out."

'ACTION JACKSON': Sharp watched Jackson, whose nickname is "Action Jackson," turn a negative into a positive.

"He was disappointed over the transcript issue," Sharp said. "But he kept his focus because he knows what he wants out of life. It became a big motivation thing for him.

"It motivated him to stay in the weight room and work a little bit more because people were doubting if he'd get to Texas.

"He's looking forward to this opportunity coming up and really looking forward to this season so he can prove he's still the same guy."

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