By David Fong
Regional Sports Editor
TROY — Sam Jackson could have taken a sure thing.
Instead, the Troy High School senior linebacker chose to play the long game, certain his abilities and his belief in himself would pay off down the road.
“I’m going to go in there ready to work and prove everyone who never really gave me a chance wrong,” Jackson said. “I would never bet against me.”
Despite being the Ohio Prep Sportswriters’ Division II Defensive Player of the Year this past fall, Jackson has failed to receive any Division I college scholarship offers. He has received a number of offers from smaller programs that would have allowed him to attend school and play football either for free or nearly free — for which he was honored and grateful — but ultimately, he recently gave his verbal commitment to Eastern Michigan University, a Division I, Mid-American Conference team that is taking Jackson as a preferred walk-on.
“I talked to a lot of schools and made a lot of visits, but after visiting Eastern Michigan and talking to their safeties coach (Todd Frakes), I really felt like that was the place for me,” Jackson said. “They told me I’d have a chance to play special teams right away as a freshman, then after my freshman year, work my way into the rotation on defense. Really, after all the places I visited, Eastern Michigan just felt like the right place for me. It’s where I felt the most comfortable.
“I’ve built a really good relationship with my position coach. Then after I told him I was going to commit, the head coach (Chris Creighton) called me. That meant a lot to me, personally.”
Which is why he was willing to go there without a scholarship offer. He’s hoping that won’t last for long, however, and he’ll be put on scholarship sooner than later.
“That’s my goal,” he said. “I am willing to work hard and do whatever it takes.”
Troy coach Matt Burgbacher has no doubts that’s exactly what’s going to happen.
“Absolutely, I think he will be put on scholarship, not only because I know what kind of football player is, but I know what kind of person Sam Jackson is,” Burgbacher said. “I think once they start camp on June 20, they are going to see what kind of football player he is and how hard he works — all the things we’ve seen here the past four years. Everyone up there is going to be wearing green shorts and white shirts — and nobody is going to care how many (recruiting) ‘stars’ a kid has.
“Ultimately, college football is a business; these guys have to win football games. They want guys who are going to help them win football games. Sam Jackson is one of those kids. Look at what he did for us. His freshman year, he was part of a team that won two football games. The next three years, he was a part of some pretty darn good teams.”
Jackson played varsity for four years at Troy. He became a full-time starter at strong safety his sophomore year, earning All-Greater Western Ohio Conference and All-Southwest District honors. He would do the same his junior year, as well. As a senior, however, he moved to an outside linebacker/defensive end position, where he truly flourished in Troy’s defense.
According to the statistics Burgbacher kept throughout the season, Jackson finished with 168 tackles, 20 tackles for loss, 10.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and, on special teams, five tackles inside the 20-yard line on kickoffs.
He was named the Ohio Prep Sportswriters’ Association Division II Defensive Player of the Year, the Southwest District Division II Defensive Player of the Year and the GWOC American North Division Defensive Player of the Year. He also was named to USA Today’s All-USA Ohio Football team. He also helped guide the Trojans to their third GWOC North title in a row, third playoff appearance in a row and second 10-win season in the past three years.
All of which, in Burgbacher’s mind, makes Jackson a future Division I football player.
“Knowing Sam the way I do, I wouldn’t bet against him,” Burgbacher said.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong