Alec Jackson prepared all season, waited for his chance, then shined
VANCOUVER — Alec Jackson had so many moments of frustration this season.
It was great being a part of an undefeated football team, but he wanted to contribute more.
An offseason injury slowed his progress into the season.
Plus, he was behind a great player on the depth chart.
The opportunities just weren’t there for most of the campaign.
“I knew eventually they would need me,” Jackson said. “I just stayed ready.”
The Titans needed Jackson in the the Class 4A state semifinals, and Jackson scored two touchdowns in what turned into a 35-28 victory over Puyallup. Here are video clips:
Union will face Lake Stevens at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Tacoma Dome in the WIAA championship game.
And it is Jackson who is one of the main reasons the Titans are going to the dome.
Jackson is proof that even while frustrated, perhaps angry about a situation, an athlete can still work hard, still do his job, and still be prepared.
It is football after all. Next man up is not a cliche. It is a reality.
Alec Jackson was the next man up when Darien Chase was injured on the first play from scrimmage. This week at school, teammates were calling Jackson the MVP, and teachers were congratulating him.
Jackson appreciated the fact that Union head coach Rory Rosenbach never sugarcoated anything to him.
“He was never dishonest,” Jackson said.
The truth: Jackson was a good football player, but that hamstring injury last spring crushed his chances at making an impact early in the season. Oh, and he was behind one of the best athletes in the Northwest in Chase.
Jackson was cleared a little earlier than expected to resume football activities and he was able to make the memorable trip to California for the Week 2 game.
“I was iffy, a little scared,” Jackson acknowledged. “I didn’t want to reinjure it.”
From there, he played sparingly. Bummed about his lack of playing time, this senior kept working at practice.
“You just try to make it fun,” Jackson said. “You’re playing with your friends. The people you have the most in common with are all on the field. We just play like we are on the playground.
“I’m an athlete. I like working out. It’s nothing. And I’d rather be playing football and not playing that much than just going home after school not doing anything.”
His coaches noticed the effort. A couple weeks ago, Jackson had another heart-to-heart with Rosenbach.
“Ro said, ‘We do trust you.’ That meant a lot to me,” Jackson said.
Rosenbach and the coaches proved that, too, when they called Jackson’s name Saturday at McKenzie Stadium when Chase went down with his injury.
Remember Week 2 when Jackson was a little apprehensive? That did not happen in Week 13.
“I didn’t feel overly nervous or in shock,” Jackson said. “It felt like we were at practice, and I was just going in for him. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.”
That, by the way, is a testament to Union’s preparation this season. An athlete with little playing time was thrown into the state semifinals, season on the line, and it was nothing to him.
Jackson finished with three catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns.
His first score did not go by design. A wide receiver screen, Rosenbach said it was perfectly set up and the players were supposed to be in the right position for an easy score. Instead, a Union lineman fell down.
Jackson was supposed to follow that lineman’s block. Whoops.
“I stuttered a little bit, and then there was a gap. I just took it,” Jackson said.
Even without that one block, the play was there. Jackson just needed to improvise, survey the field after he caught the ball. In other words, he made a football move.
That play went for 45 yards. Nothing wrong with the hamstring.
“It felt good running,” Jackson said. “I was just glad I was able to get a chance to make a play.”
Puyallup went up 14 again early in the second half.
Jackson would bring the Titans within seven when he caught a 19-yard touchdown pass from Lincoln Victor. It was Victor who extended the play, leaving the pocket, buying time. It was Jackson who knew where to go, though.
“I was getting close to the sideline. I turned upfield and there was no one back there,” Jackson said. “It was a little dump, touch pass. Lincoln can do that easy.”
Touchdown Titans, and the comeback had started.
Jackson has advice to others who will be in similar situations. Keep believing. Keep a positive attitude. Even when times are tough.
“Do your absolute best to not have selfish thoughts,” Jackson said.
When frustration did set in, he said he tried to use it as a way to better himself as a person, to become a better young man.
“If you practice how to react to it when you’re young, it will make it easier when you’re out on your own in the real world,” Jackson said.
It took a long time, but Alec Jackson got his opportunity.
Then he made the most of it.