Oct. 15, 2012
By Ryan Yanoshak, Army Athletic Communications
Cornerback Josh Jackson prepared for his final season in a Black Knights uniform just as he would for an Army mission.
As the most veteran player on the defensive side of the ball, Jackson spent the spring, summer and fall trying to learn not only his responsibilities but also those of his teammates.
"It feels good to be the most experienced guy on defense," said Jackson. "The last couple of years, I have learned my assignments. Now, I have to know everyone's. Just like in the Army, you have to know where your support elements are. Not to try and do their job but to know their responsibilities so you know where your help is."
Army's defense will play a large role in a successful season and Jackson and his teammates did all they could in this offseason to try and make a bowl game a reality for the second time in four years.
It started in the spring with the introduction of morning practices, continued with the Black/Gold Game in Fort Benning, Ga., and is reinforced each morning when the players take the field at 6:55 a.m.
With practice first thing in the morning, classes for the football players go until later in the day, making time management one of the key skills to be mastered. It is even more so for Jackson, his company's spirit officer.
"It's interesting practicing in the morning," said Jackson. "Even though we did it in the spring, now you are hitting in the morning and it's a bit different. The biggest thing is to stay healthy and to do that you need your rest. You need to get your rest and be focused and ready to go. West Point is all about time management. Early in my cadet career, I waited until the last minute. Now, you can't.
"It's an interesting role, " Jackson said of his spirit duties. "I am the head spirit guy for my company, G4, Go Guppies. We order spirit gear and inform people what the themes are for spirit dinners. Danielle Martinez has been a great help. We are working on the Army-Navy spirit video now as well. We are the morale of the company."
Not only has Jackson improved his time management skills, he has also established himself as one of the leaders of the defense, a unit that will focus on forcing more turnovers in the 2012 season.
Barring an injury, Jackson will make his 22nd consecutive start and the 23rd of his career this afternoon against Northern Illinois. His 6-foot, 182-pound frame will line up in his familiar #14 jersey at boundary corner and undertake his leadership role of not only the secondary but also the defense.
Jackson will not only rely on his teammates, he will also work with one of his best friends. When Jackson started playing football in sixth grade, it was with Jarrett Mackey. Jarrett's dad, Wendell, was their coach. The two have played together ever since, at Brookwood High School in Georgia, at the prep school and how as leaders of the defense. Jarrett was voted the team's "legacy" captain by last year's seniors and is listed as a junior after being granted a waiver by the NCAA after an injury in 2011.
"Jarrett is a great battle buddy," said Jackson. "Our families have great relationships, too. When my parents come up, the Mackeys are with them. We are pretty busy in the summer but we always try to get together as often as we can. He is a great battle buddy and I know he is going to be there for me."
Jackson's road to starting cornerback has taken a lot of work. He was recruited by assistant coach Clarence Holmes and accepted his offer to West Point after turning down a scholarship to a smaller school in the South.
He enrolled at the U.S. Military Academy Preparatory School and forged life-long friendships with his fellow classmates.
"Just like coach Ellerson says, we are a class with some characters," said Jackson. "He calls us the 'Biker Gang' and we embrace that. We're not that kumbaya senior group where everything is all love. We're that group where we aren't afraid to call someone out. We have that tough love. We have those characters. There are many different personalities in this class and it makes us very unique. We realize the opportunity that is in front of us. Now we have to work hard and take advantage of it."
When Jackson got to West Point, he learned from Mario Hill, an experienced member of the secondary who passed away in May in an accident in Kentucky. Jackson played in seven games while learning the value of mentoring younger players.
Jackson worked his way into the starting lineup during his sophomore season and has been a mainstay since.
"When I was first recruited by West Point, I had no idea what it was," said Jackson. "I learned about the opportunities and with the education, the football and the future, it was an easy decision. It has worked out. I knew I would do an extra year in the prep school but it was the best thing I could have done. It has really helped my time at West Point. Not only did I make some incredible friendships, I felt I was more prepared when I arrive here."
He enters his senior season 73 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions, numbers he hopes to increase this season.
Jackson is also helping the Black Knights on special teams where he is the team's primary punt returner, a position that allows him to showcase his speed. He has returned 33 punts in his first two seasons with a long return of 16 yards. He handled kickoff returns in his sophomore season with 26 returns for 523 yards, an average of 20 yards with a long return of 42 yards.
A tight-knit group of seniors hope to lead the way this season and culminate the journey with a bowl game. The class was sophomores when Army beat Southern Methodist University in the Armed Forces Bowl in 2010. Army has announced it will play in the Military Bowl Dec. 27 in Washington, D.C., if bowl eligible.
"Going to a bowl is great motivation," says Jackson. "That was a great experience in 2010 and to be a part of it was phenomenal. We had a great time two years ago and an even better time when we won. We want it again and we are not going to stop until we get it."
To get to a bowl game, Army will place an emphasis on stellar defense and forcing turnovers while "swarming," the buzz word for the defense. On each road trip, a player is selected to carry the large swarm sign, taking in on the bus and plane and to meetings. It's a reward to be tasked with the sign and Jackson hopes to make it four straight years of being the sign-bearer.
"It's an honor to carry the sign," said Jackson. "You are representing the defense and what we stand for."
In between looking to increase his interceptions and fulfilling his spirit captain duties, Jackson will also have to choose his branch. An Engineering Management major, Jackson is not taking the decision lightly.
"I'm thinking Signal Corps or Air Defense Artillery," he said. "I still have other choices, too. A lot of guys who looked out for me are in some of those branches and I have been on the phone with them talking about their experiences so I can really understand what I am looking at. I am taking my time and exploring all of my options. My biggest thing is to pick a branch I will be happy with."
Academics, military, football, bowl games, branches, posts, signs and spirit duties are a lot for anyone to handle. Jackson though is up to the task. It's what he has been training for after all.