Sept. 16, 2005
Note: You can read this and other feature articles in tomorrow’s game program. Be sure to pick up your copy.
By Brian Kennelly
Steven Jackson is positive there is at least one thing about his Clemson football experience he will always remember, and that is the first time he heard his name announced over the public address system at Memorial Stadium.
“Hearing my name for the first time was really a great feeling,” Jackson said with a smile. “I won’t ever forget that.”
One thing the rest of us are positive about is that if the Sporting News prediction that Jackson will be the top special teams player in the ACC this year is accurate, then he could be hearing his name echoing through Death Valley a whole lot more.
If you ask him about that prediction, however, you will not see a boastful athlete, but rather an embarrassed grin and an explanation on why he does not think about individual accolades. “I try not to think about all that kind of stuff. I work hard so that I can help the team. All that other stuff is just something extra.”
If you then proceed to ask Jackson about the team, you will not see someone who is discouraged or intimidated to play one of the toughest schedules in the country, but rather an excited young man whose confidence could sway even the most pessimistic of Tiger fans. “I think every team goes in thinking National Championship, so there is really no reason we shouldn’t think the same. We just have to take one game at a time and we’ll be alright.”
That’s who Steven Jackson is. A team player who has earned three team dedication awards for his work in the strength facility (more than any other player) and is arguably the strongest Tiger on the field, something the Hurricanes might find out the hard way if they happen to run into #35 on Saturday.
Jackson is in the top five on the team in four strength training categories, including an amazing 445-pound bench press and a 595-pound squat lift. His work in the weight room has made him quite a force on the field.
Jackson’s route to Clemson was an unusual one, really unprecedented in Tiger football history. He played high school football at Spring Valley High in Columbia, SC, two hours away from Tigertown. As an offensive and defensive star in the hometown of Clemson’s top rival, he was able to become a two-time all-region selection, as well as earn a AAA All-State selection as a senior.
Despite his high school success, the big Division I offers did not come in. Jackson decided to accept a scholarship from Southern Conference school East Tennessee State.
“At the time, that was the best opportunity I had,” he explained. “None of the big schools were interested in me.”
Instead of hanging his head and giving up, he went off to the small town of Johnson City, TN. During his freshman year, he did not red-shirt and started four games for the Buccaneers on the defensive line, and contributed in all 11 games. Jackson recorded 39 tackles as a freshman, while also leading the team in caused fumbles. All of that earned him a spot on the 2002 All-Freshman Southern Conference team. By the end of his freshman year, his career at East Tennessee State was very bright.
However, due to a lack of funds, the school decided to end its football program, leaving players like Jackson with a decision to make. While some decided to end their football careers, other players pursued transfer offers. For him, it was not a hard decision when transferring to Clemson became an option. NCAA rules state that if a program is dropped at a school, a student-athlete can transfer to another school without sitting out a season.
Coming to school at Clemson would mean he was only two hours away from his home in Columbia. It would also mean a whole different type of football experience.
“The atmosphere, the crowd is probably the biggest difference. I was used to playing in front of about 500 people up there. Sometimes it would be more if we were playing a big rival. But it was still nothing compared to Clemson.”
Apparently, switching to crowds of 80,000-plus has not affected his abilities. Jackson has been a solid contributor on offense at the fullback position, a dramatically different position from the defensive line.
“I really didn’t think switching was all that hard. I bring a defensive mentality to the offense, and that comes in handy playing fullback.”
This year, he is listed as the first-team fullback on the depth chart, so he can expect to see more action than he has seen in past seasons when he played more of a reserve roll. Fullback has been an important position in Rob Spence’s offensive sets in the past, so Jackson will be a big contributor this season.
In addition to his fullback duties, he has also shined on special teams. Jackson has ranked in the top three on the team in special team tackles in each of the last two seasons, as well as causing and recovering a few fumbles. His best special teams moment came last year when he recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff of the South Carolina game, helping send an early message to the in-state rival.
“The opening kickoff has always been my favorite part of the game,” said Jackson. “That one I definitely won’t forget.”
The play set the tone for the game, and the Tigers went on to beat the Gamecocks for the third-straight year by a score of 29-7. Jackson played a career-high 39 snaps in the contest, as Clemson had a successful ground attack. His blocking was a big reason Reggie Merriweather gained over 100 yards and scored three touchdowns. With a win over South Carolina this year, he can finish his career with an undefeated record against the Gamecocks.
Jackson has also made quite a name for himself in the classroom. He has been named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll each of his two years at Clemson, as well as winning the highest GPA Award for juniors during the 2004 season. It is hard for any student to transfer for numerous reasons, including problems with credit hours not transferring, but he is on track to graduate in May with a degree in human resource development.
Jackson has consistently been a fine example for the younger players on what a true student-athlete should strive to be. He is unsure of his future after college, but is keeping his options open and trusting in what God as planned for him.
“We’ll see about my future in football,” he said. “I’ve been doing pretty well in school though, so I will find a good job with my degree. It’s all in God’s hands.”
Jackson has shown a knack for coming on strong at the end of the season, which is a sign of his hard work with strength and conditioning paying off. He gives credit to his father for his competitive drive, who is a former baseball standout.
“I don’t really model my game after anyone, but I know I get my competitive nature from my dad.”
With Jackson stepping to the forefront when his name is called by Coach Bowden, or over the Death Valley public address system, Clemson fans can be assured he will be giving his all today.
Brian Kennelly, a senior from Charlotte, NC, is a student assistant in the Clemson Sports Information Office.
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