Jackson reflects on Williamsport days, now looks to be leader for LHU
LOCK HAVEN — Three short years ago, Jalen Jackson was a tight end/linebacker and one of several outstanding seniors trying to provide the spark for the resurgence of Williamsport’s football program.
At the conclusion of the 2016 campaign, Jackson and his teammates had put into motion the makings of the resurgence as they posted an outstanding 12-2 record on the heels of three seasons that showed a combined record of just 11 wins.
“We had a bunch of issues going on in our program at that time,” began Jackson. “There was a lot of negativity going on during my sophomore year and we weren’t very good. When we became juniors, we got together and told ourselves we weren’t losing again and my (graduating) class played a big part in turning it around. The intensity was going up, the effort was going up and we had a winning season at 6-5 and made the playoffs for the first time in 10 years. Then during my senior year, we were the upperclassmen at that point and we had everybody on board and on the same page. There were 13 of us seniors who all worked hard and played hard and we decided that winning was one thing we wanted to bring back to Williamsport.”
As a Millionaire athlete, Jackson posted solid numbers which got him a few looks from a number of college programs before he made his way to Lock Haven University to play for the Bald Eagles.
“I was shown interest from Shippensburg, Kutztown and Lock Haven and not being heavily recruited until after my senior year, I wasn’t sure that I even wanted to continue to play football,” Jackson said. “Kutztown and Lock Haven came calling and I liked what I heard from the coaches and players so I came here.”
Like many athletes, although an outstanding athlete at the high school level, Jackson had to go through some growing pains while learning the ropes at the collegiate level.
A quick learner while making the transition, Jackson emerged not only as a starting receiver at LHU, but his numbers brought a lot of attention to him last season at the local, regional and national levels.
One of the most dynamic receivers in Division II football, Jackson led all players at his position in touchdown catches. For the season he hauled in 44 balls good for 537 yards while averaging nearly 50 (48.8 ypg) yards per game. In a thrilling season-ending win over Gannon, Jackson led the way with three touchdown receptions. All of this came on the heels of an outstanding freshman season that saw him haul in 26 balls for 332 yards. For his efforts, Jackson was named to three different All-American squads after earning First Team All-Region and All PSAC-East honors.
For any athlete, the jump from high school to college presents a number of challenges and adjustments and Jackson was quick to put his finger on those areas.
“The biggest thing you have to learn to do is knowing where and how to run your routes,” he said. “In high school you might be able to get away with running the same route the same way every time. But in college, you have defensive guys who are going to take certain things away from you so you have to make adjustments in what you do to be successful. Physicality was another thing because I wasn’t used to (defensive) guys jamming me on routes so I had to become a little more physical while running my routes. You have to be a lot quicker on running or breaking off your routes because at this level the game is a lot faster.”
Entering the 2019 season, Lock Haven head coach Dave Taynor is hoping that Jackson’s leadership qualities will help push the Bald Eagles to bigger and better things both on and off the field.
“The most important thing about Jalen Jackson is that he does it the right way from the character standpoint,” said Taynor. “The character of our players is their ability to constantly progress and he (Jackson) is a leader in that department. He came in as a freshman and by the time we got to the middle of the year, he earned the starting position over a guy who was an all-region player the year before. He was able to do that due to his work ethic and his attention to detail and preparation and that not only carries over onto the field, but in the classroom as well. He carries a 3.5-plus GPA, he works on campus and he is a very humble young man who is highly respected.”
Looked on by his teammates as one of the leaders in the team, Jackson feels he wants to step it up in terms of his leadership role this season.
“Last year I thought I did a decent job from a leadership standpoint,” said Jackson. “I am always challenging myself to be better in every way and with the year I had last year, it put me in more of a leadership role. Guys saw what I did and the success I had on the field and with the success I had last season, practically everything I do is spotlighted so I have to be on top of my game so as not to give them (teammates) false hope.”
While many other athletes were most likely doing their thing during the summer months, Jackson could be found somewhere on the Lock Haven campus as part of a work crew.
“I have been waiting all summer to get back on the field and play the game,” said Jackson. “A big part of the summer is in the weight room and you aren’t necessarily doing any football skills. The summer goes by fast and before you know it you are in the first week of (pre-season) camp. I stayed up here all summer working on a crew, but now I am ready for the season to begin and get back on the field.”