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A Salute to the 2016 Seniors: Eddie Jackson

We bid farewell to the leader of the secondary and one of the best safeties in the country

NCAA Football: Alabama at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

“They want me to play defensive back. Coach Saban told me there’s a good opportunity for me to start my freshman year, come in and play early. That really sounded good. I’m just ready to go in there and compete.”

The 2013 recruiting class has certainly been an interesting one for the Crimson Tide. The second in what will apparently be six consecutive consensus #1 hauls, ten of the 2013 class’s 26 enrollees are no longer with the team for non-matriculation reasons. The 13 remaining on the roster this season are quite the group, however, deep with leadership, talent, and drive. Perhaps none embody all of those qualities as much as Eddie Jackson, who began his career with the Tide as a late-blooming three star athlete out of Boyd H. Anderson High School in Lauderdale Lakes, Florida.

Less heralded than many of his classmates, academic issues for much of his high school career prevented Jackson from seeing the field and the major programs from seeing him on their radars — after his junior year, only nearby FAU had offered Jackson. By his senior season, however, Jackson had academically qualified for the Cobras and, in a portent of his future impact at the Capstone, was making plays all over the field in all three phases of the game. Offers began to flow in, and eventually Jackson selected the Tide over LSU, Florida State, Arkansas and one of those orange teams.

Jackson did indeed receive an opportunity to play early at cornerback, chiefly at the revolving door opposite Deion Belue. Splitting time with Cyrus Jones, Bradley Sylve, and John Fulton, Jackson wasn’t terribly productive, but did notch an interception and two pass break-ups against Ole Miss in his first action of the season. After bowl practice Jackson managed to supplant Jones for the start across from Belue, and led the team with 10 tackles, nine of which were solo efforts. That tells you pretty much all you need to know about how that game went on the defensive side of the ball.

Based on his efforts as a freshman expectations were high for Jackson heading into 2014, but an ACL tear in the spring kept him out of action until the second game of the season against FAU. Despite what appeared to be lingering effects from the tear plaguing him throughout the season, Jackson would start across from Jones in all 11 games in which he played, with the Bradley Sylve Experience and a two-game cameo from freshman Tony Brown representing the only starts he missed. He would notch Defensive Player of the Week honors on two occasions, with his best game coming in the West Division championship against #1 Mississippi State. Jackson tallied seven tackles and three pass-breakups in the game — the latter is a career-high — and was a major contributor in the Tide’s endless frustration of Dak Prescott.

By 2015 Jackson was fully recovered from his knee injury, and the departures of Landon Collins and Nick Perry combined with the emergence of Jones, Marlon Humphrey and Minkah Fitzpatrick meant Jackson was moving to his natural position of free safety. The result of this reshuffling produced one of the finest Alabama secondaries in recent memory, an explosive group that would eventually accrue 17 interceptions over the course of the season, four of which were returned for touchdowns. Jackson would lead the team in both categories, and had a memorable stretch of games in October of that year against Georgia, Arkansas, and Texas A&M. Jackson would pile up four interceptions in those games, returning two for touchdowns; more notably, he would return those interceptions for a total of 189 yards (part of a school-record 230 yards on the year), providing a preview of his future exploits as a returner. Jackson would eventually start all 15 games at free safety, and capped the season with an early interception of Deshaun Watson in the national championship, handing the Tide offense a short field at a critical juncture in the game. Jackson received third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press and was a Thorpe Award semifinalist.

With the departure of Jones to the NFL after the 2015 season, Jackson not only became the team’s leader in the secondary but also the team’s primary punt returner. It was in this latter role that Jackson really exploded onto the national scene, scoring on an 85 yard return against Ole Miss and a 79 yarder against the Viles. Jackson was the country’s most productive returner on a per-return basis heading into the Texas A&M game; yes, even better than Jabrill Peppers. He continued his strong play as a free safety, notching a 55 yard interception return for a touchdown against Western Kentucky. He also grew nicely into the role of defensive leader, memorably dressing down Ronnie Harrison during the USC game after Harrison spent a little too much time jawing at the opponent. Sadly, Jackson’s career at the Capstone ended seven games earlier than it should have, as a leg injury against Texas A&M ended his season in October.

Presumably once Jackson heals from that injury the NFL will await, as he garnered mid-season All-America consideration and ended up as a second team All-SEC selection despite only playing part of the season. Jackson was selected by his teammates as a permanent team captain for the 2016 season, meaning his hand and cleat prints will adorn the concrete at Denny Chimes. Perhaps most importantly, Jackson joined 15 other Tide football players in receiving his degree on December 10th. Jackson arrived without much fanfare, and endured injuries and a position change along the way, but his work ethic and attitude propelled him to become a team leader and one of the country’s finest safeties. And for that, Eddie Jackson, we salute you.