Thomas Jackson said he didn’t catch a pass as a sophomore, his first season on the Charlotte Country Day varsity football team.The quarterback then, Michael Radford, was up front with him: “He told me straight up. He was like ‘Look, I’m probably not going to throw you the ball,’” Jackson recalled before a practice last week. “I was like, ‘That’s alright, I’m glad with being on the field.’” Two years later, Jackson is catching plenty of passes. The 5-foot-11, 185-pound senior is the Buccaneers’ leading receiver, second leading rusher and also handles kickoff and punt returns. Of the 3,051 all-purpose yards the team has racked up in its first eight games, Jackson has accounted for 1,263. “That’s our goal, to get him the ball as many touches as we can a game,” Country Day coach Bob Witman said. “He returns punts and kickoffs, and now people are kicking away from him.” Jackson, who has spent most of his time as the slot receiver, has caught 35 passes for 464 yards and four touchdowns through Country Day’s game against Charlotte Christian, which he left early with an ankle injury. Coaches expect him to play against rival Charlotte Latin Nov. 1. He’s also rushed for 228 yards and six touchdowns on 35 carries, mostly on reverses and jet sweeps. Jackson has returned 12 punts for 329 yards and two scores, and nine kickoffs for 242 yards.When asked what has helped Jackson get those stats, player and coach had the same answer: Speed. He’s run a 4.51-second 40-yard-dash, according to assistant coach Drew Witman.“He’s very dynamic,” said Bob Witman, who is in his 24th year coaching the Bucs. “He’s fast, he’s strong, he’s football savvy. He’s definitely a big play threat, along with (senior receiver) Akanimo (Eyo), so he’s a lot of our offense. ...“It’s just flat speed. He’s the fastest kid we have.” Jackson started playing Pop Warner football in fourth grade. His dad, David, coached the team and Thomas played cornerback, the same position his father played collegiately at North Carolina. Thomas didn’t play football his eighth grade year because his middle school, Trinity Episcopal, didn’t have a team. He played soccer instead.He joined the junior varsity football team as a freshman at Country Day. The transition to wide receiver came his sophomore year, working under assistant coach Steve Gardner.“I think he kind of noticed that I was fast, so he wanted to put me at receiver and see what I could do there,” Jackson said. As a junior, Jackson led the team with 490 receiving yards and five touchdowns on 29 catches. He also rushed for 186 yards and had 202 yards on kick returns. Jackson said he models his play after Carolina Panthers’ wide receiver Steve Smith because he likes the attitude he brings to the game. But he’s not as confrontational on the field. “I think I’m too nice on the field,” he said. “I kind of dish out compliments sometimes. I’m just like, why did I say that?” Country Day returned just four starters on offense this season: Jackson, Eyo, junior receiver Byron Smith and senior lineman Joseph Howe. Jackson has taken a leadership role on the offense as one of the groups few returning seniors. That includes helping two new quarterbacks, sophomore Cole Bloomer and senior Robert Tate, get comfortable in the offense after the graduation of Radford, who is now at Wake Forest. “It’s just kind of keeping their confidence up when they’re playing because they’re still getting used to it,” he said. Jackson called this a “roller coaster” season. The Bucs are 4-4 (through Oct. 24) with wins coming at public school Durham Hillside, then ranked No. 10 in the state 4A Associated Press poll, and Raleigh Ravenscroft. Country Day also had three straight losses to 3A public school Weddington (28-3), defending NCISAA Div. II champion Davidson Day (42-35) and defending NCISAA Div. I champion Charlotte Christian (45-21). Country Day also lost to rival Charlotte Catholic 21-20 in the annual John Cook Cup game. Jackson said he’s enjoyed playing the tough games. “It’s a lot more fun playing tough teams because it makes it a lot easier to give it 100 percent every game,” he said. Jackson wants to play football in college, but doesn’t have any offers yet. He said he’s not worried about that. He’s looking forward to Country Day’s next game and playing well in the playoffs. As a sophomore, Jackson was just happy to be on the field. Now he’s enjoying being a leader for the Bucs. “We’ve definitely had our highs and definitely had our lows, but I’ve really had fun,” Jackson said. “This is the funnest year of football I think I’ve played.”
Friday, Oct. 25, 2013
Senior receiver is a ‘big play threat’ for Charlotte Country Day
Inscoe: 704-358-5923; Twitter: @CoreyInscoe
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