After an illustrious high school career at Glenbard North where he finished with 6,531 rushing yards and 85 touchdowns, Justin Jackson didn’t skip a beat in his first collegiate season.
Named All-Big Ten honorable mention, the true freshman gained 1,187 yards on the ground last fall to go along with 10 scores for Northwestern last season.
Jackson missed the second half of spring practice because of a knee injury but is recovered and has been named to the 2015 watch list for the Maxwell Award, given to the nation’s top college player, and the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation’s top college running back.
As the first day of practice approached this week, Jackson spoke with Suburban Life sports reporter Scott Schmid about the upcoming campaign, his accomplishments a season ago and the academic side of Northwestern.
Schmid: What have you been up to this summer?
Jackson: Just a lot of workouts, conditioning and lifting every day. We have Wednesdays off and the weekends. I had one class, twice a week, all summer. And I’ve been trying to enjoy [the summer], going downtown a little bit, hanging out with the guys, getting to know the freshmen.
Schmid: With summer camp beginning on Aug. 9, how excited are you for the upcoming season?
Jackson: I’m ready for camp. I’m ready to get back to playing football and not just doing workouts. I’m just trying to get better, to help our team, that’s my mindset.
Schmid: What was last year like for you?
Jackson: It was a lot different. Coming into camp, that transition is so fast, having to get everything down. And then getting into the first game against Cal, I was pretty nervous and anxious. But after the first couple of plays, it was back to instinct. Getting the opportunity to play last year was awesome and I wanted to take advantage of my opportunities.
Schmid: Team-wise, what did you learn from last year?
Jackson: We are trying to change the culture. We want to get back to the culture we’ve had before, that tough, gritty type of team. And that starts in the offseason. We’ve had a great offseason and the summer has been great, too. We’ve been doing a lot of things as a team and I feel like we’ve come together. We are really trying to do great for the seniors and for this program.
Schmid: You have been named to a couple of preseason award watch lists. What does that mean to you?
Jackson: It’s pretty cool, because it is an indication of the hard work that I’ve put in and that the coaches have put in with me. And also my teammates, they help me get better. But it is something that I don’t really look at. I’m just trying to be a better player this year. I want to be better in every aspect of the game from last year.
Schmid: What adjustments did you have to make as a running back, going from high school to college?
Jackson: Just trying to be better with my reads because everything is happening so much quicker and trying to get bigger so I’m able to absorb more hits. Really I’m just trying to improve everything.
Schmid: Do you stay in contact with your brother Phil a lot? And how proud are you of the success he is having?
Jackson: I actually talked to him the other day. He is really excited and he just got named a captain of his team [at Northwest Missouri State]. I’m proud of him. That’s an amazing honor. That shows he is a leader, and I’ve seen that in him. That’s the type of person he is.
Schmid: Playing for coach Pat Fitzgerald, what has that been like?
Jackson: He really reminds me of my high school coaches, with the passion he has for it and his love of the sport. And he is someone who has played the game so he can relate to you.
Schmid: What visiting stadiums stood out to you last year?
Jackson: Obviously, Notre Dame was unreal. Playing a night game there and coming away with a win was awesome. And then Penn State was my first road game. That was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played in front of. Going from five thousand people [in high school] to over one hundred thousand, it was a surreal feeling.
Schmid: How was the academic side of things during your first year?
Jackson: It was tough. My high school curriculum was really tough too and that kind of prepared me. But still, when I got to college, it was a slap in the face, especially during the season with how many hours we put in with football. But it teaches you discipline and I’ve definitely learned some things from last year.
About Justin Jackson
Position: Running back
High School: Glenbard North