Mustang coaches, players believe their senior left tackle can handle all challenges.
Sam Jackson is the most recognizable player on the field.
Standing 6-foot-6 1/2 and weighing 330 pounds, the Lakewood Ranch senior offensive tackle’s size alone is enough for both his teammates and opposing linemen to take notice.
While he may not be the most vocal player on the field, Jackson’s work ethic speaks for itself.
“The players follow him because he’s easy to see,” coach Mick Koczersut said. “He has the ability to be a leader and we expect a lot from Sam.”
His size combined with his athletic ability has made him one the area’s top-tier linemen. If you ask the 17-year-old Jackson, he’s just an ordinary player like everyone else.
“I never really think I’m that good,” Jackson said. “My mom (Jennifer Jackson) raised me to be humble. I never think I’m the best on the field, but I guess I am pretty good.”
Pretty good is probably an understatement.
As a junior, Jackson received offers from the University of Central Florida, the University of Miami, the University of South Florida and Florida A&M.
“Sam has God-given ability,” Koczersut said. “He has things that can’t be coached in terms of athletic ability, but at the same time he’s very coachable. Sam likes to work and he’s always striving to get better as a football player and a person.”
Over the summer, Jackson attended several camps, talking to coaches and players about the recruiting process while learning new ways of approaching the game’s basic fundamentals.
Looking to stay in Florida, Jackson, a three-sport athlete who also plays basketball and won a silver medal in the discus at the Class 4A state meet in May, considered all of his options before verbally committing to UCF July 18.
UCF stood out to him both athletically and academically.
“It was the best fit for me,” said Jackson, who plans to study psychology. “It had all of the things I wanted.”
As the Mustangs' first Division I commit for the Class of 2017, Jackson can now focus on the season and making his teammates better.
Lakewood Ranch opened the season Aug. 26 with a 39-3 loss at Tampa Jesuit, which reached the Class 5A state semifinals a season ago. The Mustangs return to action Sept. 2 in their home opener against Bayshore.
It’s been seven years since the Mustangs last reached the playoffs, a trend Jackson is hoping to change. In addition to bringing a district championship back to Lakewood Ranch, Jackson also is hoping to create a sense of tradition in the Mustangs' locker room.
“I want to establish something that the younger guys will have during their time here,” Jackson said. “I want us to be a team that works hard. Even if we’re down a couple touchdowns, I want us to persevere, work hard and not give up.”
Jackson received his first taste of football while playing flag football in elementary school. He eventually tried other sports because he was too big to play youth football.
He didn’t return to the gridiron until he was in seventh grade. Jackson spent two seasons playing for the Manatee Bulls before transitioning over to Lakewood Ranch.
Growing up, Jackson always told his mom he wanted to go to the NFL and play for the Bucs. Once at Lakewood Ranch, football became more fun and his coaches showed him that he could use it as a vehicle to go to college.
Jackson has embraced his role.
“It’s weird and it’s fun,” Jackson said. “It’s better whenever you beat your opponent every single play and they can’t do anything about it. If I can touch the guy I’m supposed to hit before he touches me, then I’m going to win every time.”
Jackson wants to use his senior season to become a more dominant run blocker.
“I want to come in and be a starter (in college),” Jackson said. “I’m going to be competing against people who have been doing it for two or three years in college. It’s Division I, so they are obviously strong and talented.”