Jackson

Temple cornerback Roman Jackson is the team’s lone returning defensive starter and will be relied upon to guide the youthful Wildcats this season.

Last Friday’s scrimmage at College Station didn’t go particularly well for Temple overall, but on one play Wildcats cornerback Roman Jackson demonstrated the skills he possesses and the kind of senior season he plans to have.

In a third-and-long situation, Jackson — Temple’s only returning defensive starter — pressed up tight on his assigned wide receiver near the line of scrimmage.

“I wasn’t supposed to be in press, but it was a single (route in that area) so I pressed it anyway,” the 6-foot, 170-pound third-year varsity player said. “The guy releases outside, and I look over my shoulder and see the ball coming and I just let it drop in.”

Sporting bright red gloves, Jackson snared the interception at his 45-yard line and wasn’t content to stop there.

“I remember being close to the sideline, and I almost stepped out of bounds. Then I noticed (the receiver) wasn’t chasing me, so I just followed my blocks,” he said. “Out of my peripheral vision I saw a couple of guys coming, so I just cut back and dove for the end zone.”

It was one of only two Temple touchdowns in the scrimmage, and the first defensive TD scored by Jackson dating back at least to middle school.

A go-to leader on Temple’s young, inexperienced defense, Jackson seeks to continue his sharp play and help lead the Wildcats to their eighth consecutive season-opening victory when they challenge perennially strong Round Rock Cedar Ridge at 7:30 tonight at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex.

Since fourth-year head coach Scott Stewart arrived in Temple as defensive coordinator in 2014, the Wildcats program has been blessed with excellent cornerbacks. Clint Cole sparked the run — helping Temple reach the first of two Class 5A Division I state championship games in three years — and it progressed to Vaderik Grayer, Jalen Rios, BJ Sculark, Dalvin Fillmore (before he switched to safety as a senior), Markel Reed and Jackson.

Stewart said Jackson certainly isn’t the most talkative of that cornerback brotherhood but definitely has the talent and acumen to compete with his predecessors.

“He’s definitely the quietest of the bunch, because they’ve been pretty rowdy. But he’s a dry-humor funny guy. He’ll pop one off,” Stewart said. “Roman’s got just as good a skill set as any of them. He’s long and has great ball skills. He’s kind of a knack guy. He’s a combination of all the cornerbacks. He’s probably got as good of hands and feet as any of them.”

To Stewart, everything Jackson does well was on display during his interception return touchdown at College Station.

“He made an unbelievable play. He likes to press. He and Markel Reed are very similar in that they’d rather press than play off and give a fast guy space,” Stewart said. “It’s almost like control. We call it ‘joystick technique’ — you’re trying to control that guy and throw off the timing of his route.

“On that play he redirected the guy when he forced him to an outside move and pinned his shoulder, and then you just become the receiver. Roman’s probably got better hands than any cornerback who’s played here — since I’ve been here, anyway.”

The last of Jackson’s three interceptions as a junior doesn’t bring back fond memories. In playoff-bound Temple’s District 12-6A finale at Copperas Cove last November, he intercepted a pass but was tackled awkwardly, leaving him with a stretched medial collateral ligament that ended his season.

“I caught a pick and got hit from the side, and my body twisted and my knee kind of went inside,” said Jackson, one of several Wildcats starters who departed with injuries before Temple’s 18-7 lead devolved into a 22-18 loss that sent Cove into the playoffs.

The Wildcats’ only non-senior starting defender last season, Jackson couldn’t do anything but watch from the sideline as Temple’s defense allowed 613 yards in a frustrating 45-38 loss to Mesquite Horn in a 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at Wildcat Stadium. His replacement was DaMarco Williams, now a Tulsa-committed senior safety and fellow defensive leader.

“It was very emotional that whole week, because I didn’t want to let my team down,” said Jackson, who wants to grab at least six interceptions this season and is involved in returning kickoffs and punts.

After taking a few weeks to let his knee heal, Jackson joined Temple’s basketball team as a shooting guard — he dunked for the first time during practice last year — and then had a strong track and field season as a long jumper and triple jumper. He’s soared 46 feet, 7 inches in the triple jump and has his eyes on a state meet berth as a senior after reaching the finals of the Region II meet last spring.

In what’s now a Temple rite of passage, Jackson is moving this season from the “field” cornerback position to the “boundary” post. It’s the same progression Reed and others before him made as they transitioned from talented understudy to the Wildcats’ premier coverage man.

“You want to put your best cornerback on the short (boundary) side of the field, because that’s usually where (the opponent) puts its best receivers,” said Jackson, who’s mentoring Temple’s first-year starting cornerback, junior Keon Williams.

Jackson’s father, Roman Jackson Sr., played football for Temple, and Roman Jr. said he looked up to his cousin Travelle Latouche, a safety on coach Mike Spradlin’s 2014 ’15 Wildcats squads that earned a combined eight playoff wins.

Jackson aspires to play college football — he’s received interest from Incarnate Word, a popular destination for Temple athletes — and study business management, aiming to eventually own a business.

Jackson currently is all about business for a youthful Wildcats defense that needs all available veteran leadership. As his scrimmage touchdown showed, opponents that throw the ball in his direction will do so at their own peril.