Jackson breaking records, opening eyes

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Fans of DuPage Valley Conference football have witnessed a lot of great rushing performances over the years, but none quite as extraordinary as the one authored by Justin Jackson in Week 4.

The Glenbard North junior set school and DVC records for single-game rushing yards in a 56-14 victory over Glenbard East on Sept. 14. The 6-0, 175-pound Jackson gained 351 yards on only 12 carries, including touchdown runs of 61, 80, 61 and 64 yards. He also returned the second-half kickoff 82 yards for the first return touchdown of his career, giving him a DVC record 433 total yards.

“It felt good from the first time we stepped on the field,” Jackson said. “We had a good week of practice, probably for the first time all season, and it translated to the game. It was satisfying to see all our hard work pay off.”

Jackson’s big night may have surprised some, but not Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens.

“We see him practice,” Wilkens said. “It wasn’t a surprise if you see him on a daily basis.”

In his second year on varsity, Jackson has rushed for 1,028 yards on 113 carries (9.1 average) and has 18 overall touchdowns. Throw in his work as a lockdown defensive back and his 5.0 GPA (on a 5.0 scale) and it’s easy to see why he already has offers from Northwestern, Boston College, Illinois and Purdue.

“He’s a good leader,” Wilkens said. “His knowledge of the game [is special]. [You are] able to tell him something once and he gets it and can explain it to other players.”

Jackson said he gets that leadership ability from his brother Phil, now redshirting at Northeast Missouri State after starring for the Panthers the past three seasons. Phil rushed for over 1500 yards while Justin added 741 yards and 11 touchdowns last fall as Glenbard North advanced to the Class 8A state semifinals.

“I’m glad I had the one year with him,” Jackson said. “It was a lot different because he was always there to coach me up. He showed me how to be a leader and [how] to conduct myself.”

Jackson has done his damage despite running behind an inexperienced line that has just two seniors. The 4-1 Panthers like to run behind 6-3, 285-pound three-year starter D’Angelo Hodges and 5-11, 280-pound Mitch Siver on the right side but are beginning to gain the balance they’ll need.

“We like to go both ways so the defense can’t key on it, but when it gets down to it we like to run to the right,” Jackson said. “I think eventually we will be more balanced as the offensive line gets more experienced. It will be better than last year.”

Good friend Shawn Lenahan, a senior fullback, is one of the unsung keys to Jackson’s breakout year.

“He’s really good,” Jackson said. “He wants to hit people and he’ll bring the hammer to you.”

That’s exactly what the Panthers like to do, which makes them an anomaly in this age of passing offenses.

“That’s just Glenbard North football,” Jackson said. “We like to pound you and wear you out so at the end of the game you’re going to be tired and we’re going to hit you with 250-pound guys. I think it’s hard for other defenses to defend against us because they’re usually practicing against their offense and many schools use the spread. They don’t see too many teams like us.”

Or too many running backs like Jackson.

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