I go to high school with the top football recruit in the country.
Though we’ve never met, I feel like I know Jackson Jeffcoat.
On the field he terrorized opposing offenses, while I sat in the press box and overheard scouts and coaches raving about his potential. Off the field, at my school, he’s known for being humble, respectful, and hard working.
On Friday, Jeffcoat held a press conference in our school gymnasium, filled with hundreds of students skipping their second period class to hear where the big man on campus was headed for college.
The event was anything but disappointing.
Without their football pads, some high school football players look like Popeye minus his spinach, but that certainly isn’t the case with Jackson Jeffcoat.
The first time I saw him in person was on my way to a sports and entertainment marketing class.
Standing around 6’4", with shoulders that could seemingly span across a classroom, he flashed a smile to the teacher and asked if he could have a tardy pass to his next class.
Who was going to turn him down?
It doesn’t matter if you are a jock, a geek, a loner, or a part of any other typical high school social class, you know who Jeffcoat is. Football players literally line up at lunchtime, hoping to grab a bite with the future NFL player who also happens to be the No. 2 ranked prospect on ESPN.
I first witnessed his dominance in the Tom Landry Classic at SMU, where he took apart Texas' powerhouse Southlake Carroll team like they were peewee players. After the game, the correlation between the ranking and his play was apparent.
As the season wore on, I heard the doubters from rival schools.
Plano West was a pretty average football team, and there were games when Jeffcoat didn’t even record a sack.
Others said that Jackson was only well known because his dad was in the NFL. That’s what the guys who didn’t watch the games said.
I knew better.
Up in the press box, scouts were raving about how Jackson would routinely break out of double, even triple, teams to make a tackle. On the rare occasion when No. 42 was left with one man to block him, it was game over.
The normally silent press box would flutter with anticipation. “Here it comes!” coaches and writers would shout, and boy, they were right. Jeffcoat would charge at the quarterback like a bull with his sights on the color red, and there was no one stopping him from the target.
The hits he administered were so bone-crushing that people watching would cringe in pain. By season’s end, I was convinced Jeffcoat could play at any college in America.
Flash forward to Friday, Jan. 29, decision day for Jackson, when he would pick the college that would prepare him for an NFL career.
I was walking to my first period class, Journalism, and saw signs all over the school. “All roads lead to Texas,” they said, with a UT symbol drawn in bright orange. It appeared that a few overzealous Texas fans were hoping that Jeffcoat would be holding up the Longhorns sign for the next four years.
The whole school was buzzing with anticipation. Jeffcoat would make his decision at 10:00 a.m. in the school gymnasium, with ESPN, Fox, and the Dallas Morning News taping his every move.
Even the superintendent of the school district, a no-nonsense, strict enforcer of rules, came to listen.
At 9:50, when first period was dismissed, hundreds of students took a tardy for their next class and ran to the bleachers in the gym.
The administrators didn’t even try to stop them.
Jeffcoat was sitting towards the back of the basketball court next to his father, his mother, and his sisters, one of whom had already committed to the University of Oklahoma for basketball.
In front of him were three hats: Texas, University of Houston, and Oklahoma, the three finalists for the best defensive player in the nation.
He flashed the same grin that he gave my teacher months back, and answered reporter’s questions confidently.
The football captains in the crowd managed to quiet everyone, and Jeffcoat looked up into the stands. He stood up, gave one last Plano West Wolfpack chant, then grabbed the University of Texas hat and held the Longhorn sign high above his head.
The crowd erupted in cheers.
It was at that moment, Jeffcoat made the transition from high school star to the national stage.
Texas will be a championship contender for as long as Jeffcoat attends the school, and he will help anchor the defense just like Brian Orakpo and Sergio Kindle before him.
I witnessed the blossoming of a star, someone that Joe Buck, Al Michaels, and Jim Nance will be calling in a few years. The high school press conference may have been the culmination of Jeffcoat’s hard work to date, but it marks the beginning of a new chapter in his soon-to-be illustrious career.
Portions of this article also appeared on vype.com.