Grades, talent make Glenbard North's Jackson worth wait

Updated 5/2/2013 5:24 PM
  • Glenbard North's Justin Jackson heads for the end zone after catching a touchdown pass during Saturday's class 8A football playoff semifinal against Loyola Academy.

      Glenbard North's Justin Jackson heads for the end zone after catching a touchdown pass during Saturday's class 8A football playoff semifinal against Loyola Academy. JOE LEWNARD | Staff Photographer

  • Justin Jackson

    Justin Jackson

When college football recruiters travel to Carol Stream to meet with Glenbard North football coach Ryan Wilkens, they seek two things: game film and a transcript of grades.

In both cases they inevitably fall in love with Justin Jackson.

With the spring evaluation period well under way, a parade of coaches is marching through the halls of Glenbard North hoping to get a foot in the door in snagging one of the state's top uncommitted junior football players. A valued recruit at running back and defensive back, Jackson; recently decided he wants his future to be on offense.

Given his performance during the fall, it won't be a problem finding a college suitor.

"By far for football, this is the biggest recruit we've had," Wilkens said. "It's been pretty hectic, but it's well worth it. It's important we do this the right way for Justin."

The process will play itself out whether it takes weeks or months.

If it lingers into Jackson's senior season, so be it. He'll remain patient even as other top recruits come off the board with their commitments.

In DuPage County alone, Wheaton North quarterback Clayton Thorson has committed to Northwestern, Montini defensive lineman Dylan Thompson chose Ohio State, Hinsdale Central receiver Ian Bunting picked Michigan and teammate Brian Allen, a lineman, committed to Michigan State.

Others, like Illinois-bound Neuqua Valley receiver Mikey Dudek, have committed as well, but Jackson remains steadfast in his desire to make this critical decision on his own timeline.

Especially because the offers keep coming in. The process is too fluid to halt.

"You're always influenced by your peers, and it does get you a little anxious," he said. "At the same time you don't want to rush into anything and make a rash decision. I'm taking it as it comes."

Sound wise? Look at Jackson's grades and you understand why.

A world of opportunities opened because of Jackson's 5.0 grade-point average. It's the reason academic powerhouse colleges California, Northwestern and Vanderbilt already have offered scholarships.

Jackson estimates 17 offers thus far, but more are bound to follow. Miami and Arizona State came through school during the current evaluation period, but they have yet to offer.

As much as Jackson's eye-popping talent wows the recruiters when they watch his film, it's the grades on his transcript that make him a no-brainer to offer.

And as much as Jackson focused on becoming a standout football player at a young age, that same determination came early on in the classroom.

"I think it's a great vehicle to get academic schools interested in you," he said. "But you can't wait to work at it. It starts your freshman year."

It's similar to his playing career that began in second grade. Years of commitment led to an unbelievable junior year when he rushed for 2,600 yards and 35 touchdowns while often carrying the ball 40 times a game.

After leading the Panthers to a DuPage Valley Conference football championship and a runner-up finish in Class 8A, Jackson was named an all-DVC basketball player in the winter.

A standout track athlete, Jackson decided he needed to take this spring off to rest up and focus on getting better for his senior year. Jackson is working out in the weigh room, participating in physical therapy sessions to fine-tune his body, and he's eating better.

Most important, his mind is clear to put the necessary effort into the recruiting process.

"I've never allocated so much energy into a season like I did this year," Jackson said. "It took so much out of me, but I learned that's what it takes to succeed.

"I wanted to take this time off for myself. It's just been a long school year. I felt like I needed to concentrate on recruiting, and I think it was the right decision."

Jackson's already made numerous unofficial visits to colleges, and he plans more this summer in between football and basketball commitments. When the time feels right to commit, he will.

"Ideally, if I felt right about it before the season that'd be great," he said. "But if it doesn't happen by then, that's fine."

When the spring evaluation period ends on May 31, Jackson's likely to have more scholarship offers than he ever imagined.

Regardless of the pressure or attention from college coaches, social media or even fellow athletes, he'll play out the process on his own terms.

With or without a helmet, Jackson's got a great head on his shoulders.

Follow Kevin on Twitter @kevin_schmit

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