October 28, 2009 9:37:00 AM
Adam Minichino - [email protected]
The fire has been burning inside Chris Jackson for a number of years.
Eighth grade. Losing season. Ninth grade. Losing season. Eleventh grade losing season.
This year was supposed to be different for the Columbus High School football team. The Falcons were a year older and a year wiser and were more comfortable with the ways of veteran coach Buddy Davis and his assistants.
The season started fast with an overtime victory against Aberdeen in Columbus, but the Falcons couldn''t maintain that momentum.
Jackson soon found himself and his teammates spiraling into the same losing ways.
Someone needed to step forward and do -- or say -- something.
Jackson took the initiative.
"It was like a rage," Jackson said. "I got real mad (and was thinking) ''What are we doing? I know we are way better than this.'' The record we have, we are not supposed to be there. They have to play four quarters. They would pay two quarters and the other two quarters they would be resting and we would lose the game.
"All of this losing for what?. We come to practice the whole summer and we come back and we get the same result. This is my last year and I am thinking, ''I might not be able to play anymore. These are my last couple of games, and these games are not promised to me.'' Something has to change. Somebody has to step up. I had to take it like that and I stayed with that."
Columbus (3-6, 2-3 Class 6A, Region 1, District 2) has responded to Jackson''s words and will take a two-game winning streak into its game at 7 p.m. Friday at Olive Branch.
The Falcons are tied with Tupelo behind Southaven and Starkville (tied for third place at 3-2) in the district standings with two games remaining. A win against Olive Branch and a victory against Starkville on Nov. 6 would keep alive the Falcons hope for earning one of the district''s four playoff spots.
Jackson, a senior linebacker/fullback, has helped spark the resurgence by speaking up and by challenging his teammates to raise their level of play. He said the Falcons never could seem to translate their execution in practice to games. As a result, mistakes and missed opportunities plagued the team in a six-game losing streak that followed the Aberdeen game.
After a 53-7 loss to South Panola on Oct. 8, Jackson said he needed to do something because he wasn''t going to let his senior season turn into a carbon copy of the ones before it.
"I was fired up. I talked to them by the group in and I talked to them one by one," Jackson said. "It didn''t matter. I am trying to win. People who started, people who didn''t start. It didn''t matter. It is time to step up.
"I tell them to give everything they have got. I think I have gotten through to them and inspired a lot of them. They look at me as a senior and they''re trying to help me out (by playing to the best of their ability)."
Victories against DeSoto Central (12-7) and against Horn Lake (28-0) have re-energized a team that started the season with plenty of optimism.
Coach Bubba Davis senses that new sense of belief and credits Jackson for using his leadership abilities to motivate his teammates.
"I think he finally got tired of losing and it dawned on him that he had to do the things coach (Tony) Stanford (the defensive coordinator) and the other coaches have been talking to them about: A leader needs to step up and lead," Davis said. "I think it finally all hit him and he started to put that little extra into it, which brought us to the point where it is now."
Davis said he and his assistant coaches have been stressing the importance of giving maximum effort every day and being committed to the program every day they have been at the school. He said sometimes it takes a player to say those same things for the other players to recognize how important those details are to the team''s success.
Davis believes Jackson''s actions made an impression on the team and that it is benefiting from those words.
"I would say a bigger percent are on the page now than what were at the beginning of the year," Davis said. "(Jackson) is one who trusts his coaches. He believes in what we''re doing. That extra voice that he conveyed to his teammates has done a lot for this team."
Jackson said he spoke with the offense and with the defense and told both units, "It is on us," and it doesn''t matter if the other doesn''t do its job. He said the time is now for everyone to take their games to another level because time is running out.
"I have seen a big difference," Jackson said. "The boys have been playing, even some of the big boys. They have been playing like they really want it now.
"I was kind of scared because the sophomores and the juniors at first weren''t really looking at it as something because they have another year. (They are thinking) ''we have another year. If our seniors don''t do good, we have another year and we''re going to do the thing.'' But I tried to convince them why not right here, why not now? Why not grab it right now?"
Jackson is one of the leaders on defense. He has 52 solo tackles and 94 total tackles. He also has six tackles for loss, two sacks, two fumble recoveries, and two pass breakups. Even though Davis said Jackson might be undersized at 5-foot-10, 173 pounds, he has a motor that never quits. He said he always knows Jackson will give his best effort.
Thanks to some timely comments, Jackson just might have guaranteed his teammates deliver the same kind of effort the rest of the season.
"I think we can (keep it going)," Jackson said. "I have faith in the team. I believe we can keep it going. We just have to play hard like coach tells us every day. If you do it in practice, it won''t be nothing if you do all of this and go full speed in practice. It will be like I did this already in practice. It will be the same thing and you will be ready for this."
Adam Minichino is the Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.