August 17, 2011

GBK: Q&A with Cornerback Josh Jackson

To often, the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray, especially when you are talking managing a college football program. There are so many factors that can interrupt any projections that a college staff may have envisioned for team, especially their roster.

It seems that only yesterday the Black Knights were coming off their Army Forces Bowl victory over SMU and although they would be losing some critical pieces from the 2010 team ... the 2011 squad still had some quality players returning, albeit most on the offensive side.

But on defense, cornerback was one position that would seem to take care of itself, with the trio of Josh Jackson, Richard King and Antuan Aaron, all with significant starting time on their football resume, returning. Aaron in fact, had started since he was a freshman.

But fast forward to the present and 2/3 are now gone.

King was separated from West Point prior to spring practice and just this past week, it was determine that the senior Aaron would no longer be able to wear the black & gold due to a recurring back injury. A wrong hit to the senior could be severely harmful to his health and as Aaron shared with GBK this past Saturday, it is a risk that he is not willing to take.

So now, the elder statesman in the secondary is junior cornerback Josh Jackson.

GoBlackKnights.com had a chance to catch up with the Lawrenceville, Georgia native for a time of Q&A


GBK: Can you discuss the impact of losing three year starter at cornerback, Antuan Aaron as a teammate, the impact on the defense and has that changed your role within the defense?

Jackson: Well hearing the news, and to be honest, it's a true heartbreaker for me. We're all brothers on the team, but Antuan is real close brother to me. We've been through a lot these last three years, especially for me, he's brought me into the defense, he's help me out when I was that plebe ... back in the day when I didn't know anything, but he brought me up to speed. We were really looking forward to having another year locking down the corner spots. And hearing the news that he's not going to be able to play ... that really hit me hard.

What it does to our team? Well to be honest it was really a huge morale deflator for us. I know for me, for sure and the defense as well, that's another senior leader that we lost. Speaking from the defense side where originally we only had four returning starters, now we just have three. So you are talking about a lot of inexperience on the defensive side.

So it deflated our morale a little bit, it gave us a little shake, but in all honesty what are we suppose to do? We can't sit here and mope all day .... we have to keep going forward. That's what this team is about and what West Point is all about. Moving forward when you have a bad situation and making it a good situation.

After we realized that Antuan wasn't going to be with us, we acknowledged that fact and went ahead and said we only have three returning starters, but now I'm the only guy in the backfield/secondary with game experience. That means that I'm going to have to be the role model, I'm going to have to be the leader. I'm going to have to lead by example to get everyone else up to speed. We have some freshmen that were thrown into the mix, we have some upperclassmen that it will be their first time stepping onto the field in real college D-1 game. I'm going to have to be the example for them, I can no longer look out for myself, I can't think about how tired I am in practice or mope on certain plays. I can not ... not run all the way to the ball and finish the play. I have to be the example so we can show these younger guys what it's suppose to look like, so we can get everyone on the same page and we can be that defense were are .... that swarms to the ball and runs around fast.

GBK: Practice is practice, but playing at this level in a game situation is much different. Have you had a chance to talk to the younger players what it is to play in a Division I college football game?

Jackson: Yes sir, we have and it something that we have been stressing in films, in our meetings and something that the coaches do a good job at.

We go against the scout offense when we are running our plays and they will stop the film and tell us that you have to get on our horse and that we have to run. They let them know that it's not going to be this slow in the game and that these guys are for real ... they are going to be running fast and you have to be moving, you have to be moving.

A couple of practices before the scrimmage we sat the corners in a meeting room and went over everything that we have be going over to make sure that we are on point. We had to stress to them that when the game gets going everything is coming at you 100 MPH and you barely have time to blink let alone think. We are about reacting ... not so much thinking on the field, but knowing what to do in certain situations. So once you see it, just react and we are placing an emphasis on game speed.

Nothing against Eastern Michigan, my freshman year when I started in the nickel package and when I got on the field, I was able to see how fast the game speed really is. Everything came at me so fast, I wasn't ready for. So if you go back and look at my freshman tape you can see how unorthodox I was .... I wasn't that comfortable.

Now as we open up against Northern Illinois, which is a team that throws a lot more and watching film, these guys are nice, so they are going to be bringing it. So the game speed is going to pick up and we are stressing to the young players that in practice you have to go 100 times harder than you will in the game. You have to condition yourself.

GBK: Speaking of younger players, can you talk about your overall maturation as a ball player, as you look back on where you even from last year to present?

Jackson: The biggest thing is to get better and improve. From last year to this year, I was still new to the game even though I had some experience, it was my first year (2010) starting. I was a lot more comfortable but actually taking on the starting field corner role there was some pressure on me and it took me a couple of game to get myself together with complete confidence and know that I "got this".

From last year to now, the biggest difference is the way I look at the game, the way I process what's going to go on in the game and how I get myself ready. Last year I would exert a lot of energy before the game ... getting pumped and all that type of stuff. But when you go through the game, everything is going so fast and you get tired real quick, especially all the positions I had last year. So I had to learn to control my energy levels.

And that's something we do a real good job here in the CEP, the Center for Enhance Performance Department.

The other is my comfort level. I'm a lot more comfortable and I stay in my back pedal a lot longer now than I did last year. Last year I was worried about the speed of the receivers and didn't trust my own speed. But now I've learned how to deal with that and now I am more comfortable with my back pedal, I'm more comfortable with my reads, I look more comfortable on film, going through my drops and zones.

GBK: As you mentioned, you have multiple roles and two of those are cornerback and punt returner. What would give you more satisfaction ... running back an interception for six or returning a punt for six points?

Jackson: Ohhh, that's a tough one right there {laughing}. They both bring a lot of joy and I haven't taken a punt back to the house in awhile ... I miss that feeling.

Punt returning is such a hyped up thing because a lot of people think punt returning is crazy and dangerous because you have one guy versus eleven. You have eleven people coming to knock your head off and you have to stay in the zone to be able to catch the ball that's coming out of the sky ... catch it and get up field for positive yards for your offense.

When you can take a punt back, that's saying a lot. Being able to field the punt first off, get through eleven guys and follow your blocking ... that's a huge feeling. It's always estastic when you take a punt back.

The last time I took one back was back at the prep school so I am really hungry for one.


GBK: Your younger brother Zach, who was offered by Army just committed to Illinois. Have you thought what it would have been like to have him play with you at Army, especially since you didn't play together in high school?

Jackson: Yes, that crossed my mind when Coach Holmes was telling me that he was going to offer my brother. So that's when it crossed my mind what it would be like to play with my little brother.

My youngest brother is a freshman at Brookwood High School and Zach's a senior, so they may have an opportunity to play together.

I always thought about me holding down the corner spot and him holding down the safety spot and how would that be ... what would our chemistry be like. Because he takes after me a lot - he's very hype when he get into the game and I know it would have been a lot of fun.

But he had to make a choice that was right for him and he felt Illinois was the place he needed to be. I am very proud of him.

GBK: You are a junior now ... looking back, are you satisfied with your decision to attend West Point and football at Army?

Jackson: Yes sir, I will say that this is where I was suppose to be. I believe that everything happens for a reason. I am one of the ones that believe that God knows your plans and what you are going to decide, now you have to go through with it. I feel that this is where I am suppose to be and if it wasn't, I would be somewhere else right now.

At times West Point is hard, it's rigorous and there a lot of things you go through that you that make you question your decision, make you want to leave, want to quit ... and trust me, I've wanted to leave and quit {chuckling} plenty of times. But it is a battle of are you able to work hard now in order to enjoy life later.

We go through so much here and a lot of people don't understand unless they are walking in our shoes. But I feel that this is the right decision for what the future will hold for me and the type of person that I am ... a person who can endure this type lifestyle.

This will most likely be my last two years of football and I'm going to make it the best two years.

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