Senior Spotlight: Atlantic City DB Aaron Jackson gets the recognition he deserved all alongBy DAVE O’SULLIVAN
There are plenty of names that are recognizable when it comes to South Jersey football. Guys such as Andrew Donoghue of Ocean City, Jesse Milza of Cedar Creek, Reggie Jean-Charles of Holy Spirit and Connor Agostino of Egg Harbor Township — among many others — routinely saw their names in the local newspapers and their photos on Twitter throughout their high school careers.
Aaron Jackson wasn’t one of those highly recognizable names, although he probably should have been.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound free safety had an outstanding career for Atlantic City and blossomed into one of the Vikings’ most reliable team leaders during his final two years of high school. And while the Vikings went just 4-6 last fall, behind the hard-nosed play of Jackson on both sides of the ball (he also played some receiver and running back), Atlantic City nearly knocked off top-seeded Toms River North in the opening round of the South Jersey Group 4 state playoffs.
Jackson’s efforts were rewarded this spring when he was invited to play for the Blue team in the Adam Taliaferro All-Star Classic, a game that features some of the best players from throughout South Jersey. And Jackson made his presence felt with several big hits, including one on a kickoff that dropped an opponent on the White team around the 10-yard line.
“I was expecting just to come out and play my game and go hard every practice. There was a lot of competition out here,” Jackson said after his team’s 19-7 victory at Rowan University in Glassboro on June 29. “Some people thought I wasn’t a big hitter, but I thought I showed it in this game. I was hitting everything that moved.”
His teammates were impressed with Jackson’s efforts, not only on special teams, but he also helped lead a defensive effort that limited a very talented White squad to just seven points, including none in the first three quarters of action.
“There was a kick return, and he came out of nowhere and smacked the kid at the 10-yard line. He’s a hard-working kid. He should have gotten more attention,” said Jean-Charles.
Jean-Charles and Jackson really didn’t get a chance to know each other during their high school careers, even though they faced off as rivals on Thanksgiving for a couple of years.
“The times when we weren’t busy we were all hanging out, me, him, Zeke (Ennis), Syhee (Glover), we were all together the whole time,” Jean-Charles said. “Me and him were always cool, and this was our first time really hanging out. He’s a great person.”
Prior to the 2016 season, Jackson said he knew he had to step up and be a leader for a relatively young Atlantic City team.
“The knowledge of the game is so much more, now that I’m older. I’ve seen so much in the game and I know more about the game now,” he said. “It’s a big difference to know that everybody is looking at me as someone to follow, but I know I can do it. All I have to do is come out with a lot of hype, and everybody will feed off my energy.”
Vikings coach Thomas Kelly also was looking for Jackson and some of his senior teammates to step up and be leaders last fall.
“We’ve gotten a lot more senior leadership than we have in the past. Guys have really been stepping up, and I’m talking about things you might not even associate with football, which we appreciate. Picking up guys — we didn’t have bussing this year, so we needed carpooling. A lot of our kids don’t have a way to get to practice or the weight room, so we’ve had a lot of guys step up in those departments, so we’re proud of that,” Kelly said after a preseason practice last summer. “Guys like Aaron Jackson, Scott Jones and Vashon Brock have been stepping up. We feel like if we start doing to the little things and acting like a family, like picking kids up, that’s going to translate onto the field. So, we’re very proud of that.”
Jackson said he was intent on proving he belonged at the Taliaferro Classic, and that he was worthy of a roster selection.
“It’s been amazing to play with these guys. They are big-name guys, and I might not be as big as them, but it was amazing to be able to play with them and know that my skills are where theirs are at, and good enough to be put on the same team as them,” he said. “I loved that I was able to show that I can compete with the best. I always want to put on for Atlantic City because that’s where I’m from.”
Jackson said he really enjoyed his time at Rowan during the four-day all-star experience.
“It was amazing. Some of these players I never knew (before this) but now I feel like I’ve known them my entire life. It’s been the best experience of my life. I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Jackson said. “Some of us didn’t even know each other before the game, so it was great to be able to hang out with each other. It was like college, you wake up at 7 a.m., go through two or three practices, but it was great. I loved it.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays