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Leader/News/Press MVP: Jackson shines in full-time role with Panthers

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(Staff photo by Sarah Minor)
Glenbard North’s Justin Jackson returns an interception for a touchdown in the Class 8A state title game Saturday in Champaign.

When Phil Jackson graduated last spring, it was assumed that his younger brother, Justin, would handle the bulk of the rushing load for Glenbard North this fall.

But nobody could envision just how big that responsibility would turn out to be.

After Saturday’s Class 8A state championship game, the final tally for Justin Jackson this season was 420 carries in 14 games for an average of 30 attempts per contest.

Along with durability came supreme production from the 6-foot, 175-pounder, who rushed for 2,602 yards this season while scoring a combined 39 touchdowns (35 rushing, three receiving, one interception). Add in his play as a starting cornerback on defense and the number of plays he spent off the field can probably be counted on two hands.

“The amount of carries, the amount we asked of him and what he was able to produce, it’s overwhelming,” said Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens. “At the beginning of the year, we knew he would play some defense but we didn’t know how much. And he even punted a few times for us.

“He never steps off the field. And he is very humble. He goes out of his way to help his teammates out.” With great vision and speed, Jackson has the ability to break off highlight reel-type runs. But he is equally adept at running between the tackles to pick up first downs.

“When you look at his slight build, you might think he is just a perimeter/outside type of runner,” the coach said. “But he is very good at setting his blocks up and getting those tough 4 yards when we need it.”

Jackson’s work in the playoffs was the kind of stuff that builds legends. He gained 827 yards on 160 carries in the Panthers’ four wins leading up to the title game while scoring 14 of Glenbard North’s 15 touchdowns.

But the junior is quick to deflect credit.

“I might get the accolades but it is all a team game,” Jackson said.

Himself soft-spoken, Jackson’s teammates had no trouble expressing his impact on the Panthers run to a second-place finish in Class 8A.

“He’s a great kid,” said senior quarterback Brian Murphy. “I wish I could play more games with him. He will do this again next year.”

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