HAVE FUN, PLAY HARD: Temple's Jackson might be 'goofy,' but skilled DE sparks playoff-bound Wildcats
Updated: Nov 11, 2022
BIG MAN ON THE BLOCK: Temple senior defensive end Jaylon Jackson (0) celebrates with teammate Naeten Mitchell after Jackson blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt by Hutto's Timothy Hollenbeck during the Wildcats' 31-27 comeback victory over the Hippos on Oct. 14 at Wildcat Stadium. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound Jackson then blocked a 50-yard try in the third quarter and compiled four blocked field goals during District 12-6A play for Temple (7-3), which hosts Waxahachie (8-2) in a Class 6A Division I bi-district playoff game at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Jaylon Jackson is many things at the same time.
The Temple senior is a typical teenager who likes to have fun, laugh and joke around while hanging out with his friends. He doesn’t take himself too seriously, and his coaches often use the word “goofy” to describe his outgoing personality.
However, Jackson’s happy-go-lucky persona belies his football intelligence, his passion for the sport and his ability and propensity to make impressive, game-altering plays on the field.
In the Wildcats’ first five District 12-6A games this season, the 6-foot-1, 225-pound defensive end intercepted a pass, made a tackle for a safety and blocked four field goals (that’s right, four), including two in a close home victory over Hutto.
“Jaylon’s goofy. I mean, he’s one of the goofiest kids I’ve ever been around,” Temple head coach Scott Stewart said about Jackson, a first-team all-district defensive end last season after the Wildcats went 7-0 in 12-6A for the second consecutive year. “But he’s got a great motor and a great first step, which helps him on this level. He’s very quick for being 6-1, 225.”
When Temple’s coaches learned at the beginning of last week that Jackson had been injured while riding a four-wheel recreational vehicle near his home, they were relieved to find out that Jackson was projected to recover quickly despite sustaining a concussion and receiving three staples for lacerations on the right side of his head.
Wildcats defensive coordinator Dexter Knox couldn’t resist getting in a good-natured jab at Jackson when the third-year varsity player returned to campus.
“I jokingly said, ‘Maybe this will help you – knock some sense into you instead of going the opposite way.’ He was like, ‘Aww, Coach,’” Knox said with a chuckle. “Jaylon’s a good kid, a fun-loving kid, a carefree kid. You’ve really got to get on him for him to care.”
Knox described Jackson as the “polar opposite” of Temple all-state senior linebacker Taurean York, the Baylor commitment and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP who seemingly has a plan for every situation.
“Taurean is locked in, all about business – ‘I’ve got everything organized. I’ve got everything set up.’ That is not Jaylon,” Knox said. “Jaylon is the complete opposite. Jaylon is as carefree as carefree gets. He’s winging it at all times.”
Jackson actually was cleared by team physicians in time to play in last Friday’s regular-season finale against Copperas Cove, but instead he sat out the game as a precaution as the host Wildcats blasted the last-place Bulldawgs 69-7.
He’ll be back on Bob McQueen Field at Wildcat Stadium one more time at 7:30 Friday night, when Temple (7-3) battles familiar playoff opponent Waxahachie (8-2) in a Class 6A Division I bi-district game. Jackson contributed seven tackles and two sacks as the Wildcats defeated the Indians 28-14 in the same round on the same field a year ago.
“I’m good. I’m ready to go,” he said Tuesday afternoon.
It wasn’t surprising that the word “fun” came up when the confident, talkative Jackson discussed what he enjoys about playing defensive end.
“I’d say it’s fun. I’m not letting any quarterback get outside of me. I don’t think a quarterback has gotten outside of me this year or probably last year,” said Jackson, who’s recorded 27 tackles and 2½ sacks this season. “I’m faster than every offensive lineman. Now when they watch film they know I’m fast, so they’re just going to kick-slide all the way back and I’ve got to hit them with a finesse move or go inside of them. That’s why I like it.”
Jackson said he felt fortunate to have escaped more serious injuries in his four-wheeler accident that occurred approximately 10 days ago when he was just trying to have a fun time with friends.
“I’m on the east side (of Temple) and, you know, the roads are bad over there. I get on a four-wheeler and I was going fast, and you have to stand up to turn it sometimes,” Jackson recalled. “So I’m standing up and I could see it was on two wheels, so everything started going in slow motion. I was thinking, ‘Should I jump off?’
“And then I jumped, because the four-wheeler would have landed on my legs. I was like, ‘I ain’t fixing to break a leg. I’d just rather hurt my head or something.’ So I jumped off and then I went unconscious and I woke up in the ambulance.”
Sidelined for Temple’s final district game, Jackson was able to serve as an unofficial assistant coach to sophomore Adrian Scott, a reserve running back who made an emergency start at defensive end against Cove because both Jackson and senior end Kevin Stockton were out with injuries.
“Yes, I did coach (Scott) up every time he came to the sideline. I was watching him,” Jackson said. “But after the first two drives, he was good.”
Jackson performed well enough as a freshman to be promoted to varsity for Temple’s playoff game at Longview in 2019. He made his mark at the varsity level a year later when the Wildcats played at Killeen Shoemaker with an opportunity to capture their first outright district championship since 2015.
After Mikal Harrison-Pilot’s touchdown run with 1:41 remaining gave Temple a 27-24 lead, Shoemaker faced a fourth-and-1 situation at its 45-yard line with a minute left. Grey Wolves running back Devin Brown tried to run for the first down, but Jackson and fellow linemen Eric Shorter and Jayven Taylor invaded the backfield and combined to tackle Brown for a 1-yard loss that preserved the victory and the league title.
At that time, Jackson was 5-11 and closer to 235 to 240 pounds, giving Knox the flexibility to play him at tackle or end.
“I was playing both (positions). I was trying to get them to move me to end, because I was faster than everybody else,” Jackson said. “That week (vs. Shoemaker) they made a play called ‘Cheetah Cheetah’ for me. I got a QB pressure before that next play when all three of us got the game-winning tackle.”
Between his sophomore and junior seasons, Jackson grew an inch, dropped 10 to 15 pounds and became stronger and faster, leading him to become a starting end after the 6-5, 250-pound Tommy Torres moved from end to tackle.
The move was advantageous for Jackson, who produced a stellar all-around junior season by making 43 tackles (28 solo, eight for losses) and seven sacks along with causing three fumbles and recording eight quarterback pressures. He earned first-team all-district status after helping Temple go 7-0 in district and advance to the area round of the playoffs for the second straight year.
Jackson explained that because his father stands 6-6, he assumed he also would grow tall. But he also knew that his mother is short, so he believes he’s now peaked at 6-1. That has made increasing his strength in the weight room a top priority.
“I’m a lot stronger now. The strength comes with the length you have. My dad’s 6-6, so I’m like, ‘I’m just going to get the height. I don’t have to worry about the strength,’” Jackson said. “But my sophomore year I was like, ‘I ain’t growing no more.’ So I was like, ‘I’ve really got to like the weight room then.’ I really like the weight room.”
When Temple opened this season at McKinney, Jackson had to leave his comfort zone at end and play weakside linebacker in place of senior Zion Moore, an all-district player who suffered a season-ending broken ankle during a mid-August practice. Jackson made six tackles and a sack as the Wildcats earned a hard-hitting 17-10 victory.
Senior Teryon Williams-Echols then emerged at weakside linebacker to compensate for Moore’s absence and become Temple’s second-leading tackler behind York, allowing Jackson to move back his natural position as the rush end.
Knox said it’s a combination of size, speed, smarts and instincts that makes Jackson a matchup problem for offensive linemen.
“Jaylon executes the gameplan and does a very good job. He can run and he’s athletic as all get-out, now. That’s what really helps him a lot, is he’s just so athletic coming off the edge,” Knox said. “He’s not our sack leader, but I think it helps that we have him to push it. (His speed) helps in the quarterback read game that they may throw at him. He’s one of our fastest kids on the defense and he’s playing defensive line.”
Of course, “fast” is a relative term. In Temple’s 12-6A home opener against Pflugerville Weiss, Jackson intercepted a short pass near midfield on the Wolves’ opening drive and returned it deep into Weiss territory, seeking the realize the dream of a defensive lineman scoring a touchdown.
However, speedy Baylor-committed wide receiver Micah Gifford tracked down Jackson from behind and forced a fumble inside the 20-yard line. Senior defensive back Naeten Mitchell briefly controlled the ball before he fumbled it and a Weiss lineman fell on it at the 8, giving the Wolves a fresh set of downs.
“The day before that, I said to (defensive line) Coach (Robert) Havens in the film room, ‘Coach, if the running back flares out, I’m going to catch a pick.’ And when they did the play, I knew it was coming,” Jackson said. “They did the play and I caught the pick. I just jumped, it hit my helmet, I caught the ball and I was running. I broke the tackle and I’m stumbling, then Micah came and caught me.”
Jackson admitted that he took a good amount of ribbing from his coaches for not holding onto the ball after his takeaway, but that sequence still produced a happy ending for Temple. Mitchell blocked the Wolves’ ensuing punt and recovered the ball for a touchdown, and the Wildcats went on to a 32-19 victory.
BREAK ON THROUGH: Temple senior lineman Jaylon Jackson (0) jumps to deflect a 38-yard field goal attempt by Jai'Den Fletcher that sailed wide right during the Wildcats' 13-9 district loss to the Knights on Oct. 21 at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. It was one of Jackson's four blocked field goals during District 12-6A action. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
One week earlier in Temple’s district-opening 53-19 win at Bryan, Jackson delivered the first of his four blocked field goals. In the first quarter he penetrated the middle of the line and got his right hand up to reject a 46-yard attempt.
At home against Hutto three weeks later, Jackson ensured that he probably shouldn’t expect to receive a Christmas card from Hippos kicker Timothy Hollenbeck. Jackson blocked Hollenbeck’s 49-yard field goal try to end the first half, then in the third period he batted away Hollenbeck’s 50-yard attempt.
Jackson’s pair of blocks proved to be crucial because Temple got a final-minute, go-ahead touchdown pass from Reese Rumfield to York to escape with a 31-27 win.
Jackson added to his list of rejections three weeks ago by getting a piece of Jai’den Fletcher’s 38-yard field goal try that sailed wide right in the third quarter of Temple’s 12-6A showdown at Harker Heights, although the Knights rallied from a 9-0 halftime deficit to prevail 13-9 and eventually end the Wildcats’ three-year reign as district champions.
For Jackson, the blocks against Hutto stand out.
“The Hutto game, just because it was close. Those helped us win the game,” he said.
Jackson said he and junior nose tackle Ayden Brown, last season’s 12-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year, developed a strategy for blocking kicks.
“AB and me, we came up with our own thing,” said Jackson, who added that he hadn’t blocked a kick before this season. “I know I’m not fixing to move two O-linemen at one time, so we focus on the guard only and I tilt in between the guard and center. When I go I can turn and I know my arm’s long enough, so I put that right hand up. I’ve blocked them every time I’ve tried it.”
A major proponent of making game-changing plays on special teams, Stewart said Jackson’s rare ability to block field goals has been a boon for Temple this season.
“I think it’s a knack. There’s stuff you can’t measure,” he said. “I would love to tell you it’s not external motivation, but we do a lot of (player) recognition for stuff like that and Jaylon likes that stuff. He’s got a good feel for the game, but there’s a knack to that.”
TWO-POINT PLAY: Temple senior defensive end Jaylon Jackson tackles Waco Midway running back Draylon McGruder in the end zone for a third-quarter safety during the Wildcats' 44-10 win on Oct. 7 at Panther Stadium in Hewitt. A first-team all-district selection as a junior, Jackson helped Temple go 19-1 in District 12-6A competition in his three varsity seasons. He recently received an offer to continue his football career at NCAA Division III power Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
One more play during his senior season stands out for Jackson. In the Oct. 7 road game against nemesis Waco Midway, Temple already led 36-10 late in the third quarter when the struggling Panthers began a possession just outside their end zone. Draylon McGruder took a handoff a few yards deep in the end zone and immediately was swarmed by Jackson, who grabbed the running back by the shoulders and dropped him for a safety en route to a satisfying 44-10 win.
“When we called the play, I knew there was only one way that they could run. The running back was on the left side, so I was like, ‘The quarterback’s not fixing to pull the ball (and run with it),’” Jackson said. “I knew they were running it that way, so I had my mind on slanting inside and getting the tackle. I knew I was going to get it. I saw it coming.”
The defensive-minded Stewart said that play exemplified Jackson’s maturation in understanding how to convert his athleticism into disciplined production.
“A lot of it is just block identification and recognizing what that (lineman’s) trying to do and what his counter move is to that. If he tries to block you this way, we’re going this way. If he tries to do this, we’re doing that,” Stewart said. “Jaylon’s really added some depth and levels of understanding block ID and block destruction. His toolbag’s gotten bigger of how to disrupt those blocks and he’s gotten more consistent with that.”
Jackson prides himself not only on his athleticism and tenacity but also on his endurance, saying he prefers not to miss a defensive snap unless he has to.
“I can say that after my sophomore year, when I knew I was going to start, I can play every snap the whole game. The (Austin) Westlake game (in 2021), I was in the whole game. I think last year I played dang near every snap,” said Jackson, whose presence has helped senior tackle Ka'Morion Carter (37 tackles, six sacks) have a breakout season as a first-year starter. “Unless I did something bad . . . that’s the only reason I’m going to come out. This year we can alternate guys, but I don’t really get tired, though. I can play every snap.”
Jackson’s family roots are in Monroe, Louisiana, and he confirmed that he’s not related to any past or current Temple players named Jackson, such as Robert Jackson, Anthony Jackson, Roman Jackson or current teammates and brothers Steve and Lezlie Jackson. However, he said he dates Roman Jackson’s younger sister and that Roman is like a brother to him.
Roman Jackson signed with Tarleton State’s football program out of Temple in 2020, and Jaylon Jackson believes that playing college football is in his future. Right around the time of his recent four-wheeler accident, he received his first college offer, from reigning NCAA Division III champion and perennial power Mary Hardin-Baylor.
“I feel like I will go to UMHB, but I’ll see how everything works out and see who else offers me,” Jackson said. “I liked UMHB when I went to a game there. I like the atmosphere and everything.”
Attending college close to home would give Jackson an opportunity to do the two things he’s become known for: playing hard and, of course, having fun while doing it.
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