After tracking the punt, Kris Jackson briefly had his back to the heavy pursuit.
He had no choice but to turnaround.
At that point, the advantage shouldn’t be in the Mesa senior’s favor, but Jackson had that great equalizer.
The ball was in his hands.
And so far during the 2017 season, that means the opposition is back on its heels and Jackson is dictating the action. Setting them up with a jab step left – like on the punt before racing 82 yards for a score – cutting right and blowing through a hole.
“He has taken a huge step forward and he is finally healthy this year,” Mesa assistant coach Junior Taylor said. “I haven’t been shocked by anything he has done so far. We have internal goals for himself and the team. I honestly feel he is one of the premier backs in Arizona and he can showcase it every week, and he has the first two Fridays.”
The signature play thus far has been that 82-yard punt return in the loss against Desert Mountain last week, but there have been plenty of other impressive plays.
In the season opener, Jackson had 108 yards on 20 carries and two catches for 33 yards including a touchdown.
Against Desert Mountain, the 5-foot-11, 210-pounder scored three different ways while racking up 285 totals yards.
In addition to the punt return, Jackson had 173-yards rushing, including an 80-yard touchdown run, and two catches for 32 yards including a 30-yard score.
“I’m trying to do everything I can to help our team win,” Jackson said. “I know if I make a play then everyone on the team gets into it and we start playing better.”
It is getting to the point where each time Jackson touches the ball he is expected to score. It’s unrealistic, but like a great slugger in baseball he is willing to take his cuts.
“I don’t mind it,” he said. “I want that kind of pressure or expectation. I want to see me score every time, too.”
Jackson’s impressive start is the continued growth he’s shown since his sophomore year when he rushed for 975 yards, including five 100-yard games, and 13 touchdowns. He was slowed by injuries as a junior, but still managed 775 yards with eight scores in nine games.
“He has been pretty special,” Mesa coach Kap Sikahema said. “I can’t really say anything he does surprises me anymore. He’s really coming into his own.”
The only thing he is deflecting more than the defenders is the credit to his great start to the season. Coaches singled him out after the first game, a loss to Mesquite, for his performance, but he wanted no part of it.
“Not only did he give credit to his offensive line, but he credited the scout team defense for helping him,” Sikahema said. “How many players recognize the scout team? That really showed what kind of person he is.”
Jackson, a good student with polite manners and smile that draws you in, is playing for a little more this year as he tries to push the Jackrabbits, who host Copper Canyon this week, to a successful season.
Not only is he still looking for a viable scholarship offer for next year, he also saw his mother, Shanette Silva, deal with a heart issue over the summer.
“It makes you realize your time with loved ones isn’t always guaranteed,” he said. “She’s OK now, but it really made me appreciate family more than ever.”
Sikahema, whose mother passed in recent years, had a talk with Jackson about making sure he did everything he could for his mother this season.
“I know what it is like to go through losing your mom,” he said. “I told him to appreciate she is here and do everything he can to honor her. She’s here and can see you perform. That’s not always going to be the case someday even if it is a long, long time from now. You will always miss your mom.”
Jackson certainly has put on a show thus far, although he’d like to do more by making his way into the game as an outside linebacker but he hasn’t been able to convince anyone yet.
It’s about the only thing he has come up short on so far, this season. Don’t be surprised if No. 5 finds a way to get out there at some point. He’s done just about everything else.
“He is well rounded on and off the field,” said Taylor, who played at UCLA after graduating from Mesa in 2002. “He has great character. He is the same person in front of the team and away from the team. He’s a wonderful kid for everyone here to see.
“I’ve been around some great players, but I haven’t seen too many high school athletes as well-rounded like Kris.”
– Jason P. Skoda is a senior writer for MyNewsMesa.com. Send Mesa-based story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org.