Carol Stream (Ill.) Glenbard North Top247 junior running back/cornerback Justin Jackson and his older brother and sister got the memo from their father Phil Jackson real quick.
A native of Detroit, the elder Jackson went on to earn his degree at DeVry University in Chicago in becoming an engineer.
“He didn’t have a lot of money or anything, so he had to bank on his academic ability in order to make it,” Jackson explained. “He stressed that to me. I take just as much pride getting an A on a test as I do scoring touchdowns. It’s something my parents taught me and I grasped that and I kind of took it from there.”
Ranked by 247Sports as the nation’s No. 5 all-purpose back and No. 135 prospect overall in the class-of-2014, the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Jackson also takes four honors classes and sports a 5.0 GPA. His older brother Phil, who he shared carries with last fall accepted a scholarship to play football at Northwestern Missouri State, while his older sister graduated magna cum laude from Eastern Illinois.
Jackson emerged as a football recruit to watch last fall in helping Glenbard North advance to the state semifinals. He rushed for 741 yards and 11 touchdowns while registering 45 tackles on defense and blocking two punts on special teams. Illinois pulled the trigger and offered back in late April, and since then Boston College, Northwestern and Purdue have followed suit.
“I hadn’t expected it at all,” Jackson said of the scholarship from the Illini. “It was great to get an offer from them because as I was growing up, that was my favorite team to watch as far as college football and college basketball goes. That was a really great day and it really got the ball rolling.”
It came as no surprise to Jackson’s coach Ryan Wilkens.
“As a defensive back he’s one of the best in the area,” Wilkens said. “At running back, his inside running ability for being a little slighter, for being 175 pounds is tremendous. His ability to setup his linemen is fantastic. His knowledge of the game is great.”
According to Wilkens, Jackson has taken that to another level heading into this season.
“Leadership wise, he’s out there telling our offensive linemen, fullback, quarterback what concepts to grasp. It’s constant conversation. He knows exactly what we’re supposed to be doing, what he’s supposed to do on every single play.”
Jackson got a chance to look around Illinois’ campus when he camped during the summer.
“I believe that they’ll improve greatly from last year,” Jackson said. “Their football facilities are amazing. Their weight room is very nice. Their whole stadium is just top notch. I believe they’re going up.”
The school Jackson is most familiar with early in the process is nearby Northwestern. He camped their and also attended a barbecue with some of the Wildcats top recruiting targets.
“Beautiful facilities,” Jackson said. “Great atmosphere. Academics are obviously top notch. The coaching staff seems to have a really good grasp on their concepts and the way they play and they do it there. They believe if they keep getting their kids to all buy in, sometime soon they’ll be at the top of the Big Ten.”
Jackson doesn’t have any visits in mind for the fall, but he hopes to attend a few games within driving distance. Besides the schools that have offered, Jackson is also hearing from the likes of Michigan, Michigan State, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
While Jackson’s father was able to pass down to his son a strong work ethic, he wasn’t able to pass down his love for the University of Michigan.
“If I were to go to Michigan, my Dad would be very happy and support me,” Jackson said. “But if I go to Illinois or Northwestern or somewhere else, he’d also be very happy for me and support me.”