Temple head coach Scott Stewart lightheartedly classified Jaylon Jackson as goofy. It’s a description the junior agreed was 100 percent accurate, saying with a smile, “Stuff to me is just funny.”
“When I’m around my friends, we are just some goofy people,” the personable Jackson elaborated Tuesday afternoon. “We laugh a lot.”
Defensive coordinator Dexter Knox expanded further.
“He lights up the defensive linemen. You have to have a few characters in that group and (this year) you have Eric (Shorter) and Jaylon,” Knox said. “He’s one of those kids you enjoy being around. You never have to worry about him having a bad attitude. He’s always there to put a smile on your face.”
While Knox said it sometimes takes a bit of extra coaching to turn Jackson’s smiley face into a focused, game face, where football and his role for the Wildcats are concerned, there aren’t many things Jackson takes more seriously.
And it shows when the lights shine Friday nights.
“There are a lot of good people on this team at every position. They put the best 11 on the field and you really have to earn your spot over here. If you’re doing bad, Coach Stewart isn’t going to let you start, your position coach isn’t going to let you start,” Jackson said. “It starts clicking in your head that they aren’t playing with you, that you have to go for your spot for real, and I just go harder.”
That’s been apparent through Jackson’s performances, especially since the start of District 12-6A play.
Jackson, who was a sophomore rotational player on the defensive line in 2020, had just six tackles to his credit during Temple’s three non-district games this season. In five league tilts, he’s produced 18 tackles (five for losses), two of his team-high three sacks, two forced fumbles and five quarterback hurries.
“He has a lot of natural ability — really intelligent and gifted. Quick, light on his feet. He’s played really well,” Stewart said. “He has to work hard on block identification but when he’s locked in on that stuff he’s pretty darn salty.”
If block identification is indeed an area that needs improvement, Jackson is adamant about finding ways to make that happen. Being told he can’t or won’t aren’t deterrents. Instead, those statements are modes of motivation for the 6-foot-1, 215-pound defensive end, who seems to thrive when challenged.
“That’s how Jaylon operates. If you challenge him, it’s like ‘Oh, you think I can’t do this, do that? All right, let’s go then. I’m going to prove you wrong.’ That is him. That’s his MO,” Knox said.
Now and again, he’ll even take requests from teachers, and then try to fulfill them on game day.
Last week in Temple’s 60-15 rout of Killeen Shoemaker, Jackson contributed to a defensive sequence early in the third quarter when he chased down speedy Grey Wolves quarterback Omari Evans and caused a fumble that was recovered in the end zone by teammate Faylin Lee.
Not only did it give Temple a 32-7 lead and all but shut the door on Shoemaker, but the play almost delivered on a promise Jackson made to his chemistry teacher, John Boor, earlier in the day.
“I try to offer words of encouragement to my students. I know he plays football and it was homecoming, so I told him to get an interception and run it back for a touchdown. He smiled and said, ‘Yes, Sir,’” Boor shared. “After the game, I found him on the field and told him the (caused fumble) was just as good in my book.”
Jackson grew up in Monroe, La., and said he, his mom and two younger siblings “Were in a struggle.” Recognizing she and her family needed a change, Jackson’s mom, Joy, went back to school, earned a degree and got a job as a surgical technologist at Baylor Scott and White.
“I knew it was going to happen. She said we were going to move for years. One day, I came in the house and I hear her on the phone talking to Travis (Science Academy). She’s like, ‘Can I get my kids in school?’ A week later, she finished school, she brought the boxes in and I was like, ‘We are really moving to Texas,’” Jackson recalled of the journey that took place in November of his seventh-grade year.
“At first, I didn’t really like it because I was down there in Louisiana since I was young. But I wanted better. I didn’t want to be in Monroe, having my mama crying every day, not being able to eat, stuff like that.”
The location change and the fact that his dad, Jimmie, remained in Louisiana, were difficult. But, there was football in Temple and a better version of it.
“They didn’t really give me a chance (in Monroe),” said Jackson, who didn’t play organized football until he was a sixth-grader but fondly remembers plenty of backyard catch sessions with Jimmie and neighborhood pickup games. “(In Temple) I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to do something with football here.’”
He played for Travis as an eighth-grader and made an impression as a freshman that earned him an invite to fifth period athletics with the varsity group. He performed well in his reserve role as a defensive tackle last season and this year was switched to defensive end, which more naturally fits Jackson’s skill set.
As for the rest of his junior campaign, Jackson said he just wants to make plays. Temple (6-2, 5-0), of course, would benefit from such as it continues its quest for a second straight unbeaten district run at 7:30 tonight against Killeen (2-6, 0-5) at Leo Buckley Stadium. The Wildcats, who’ve locked up a playoff berth, can clinch at least a share of the 12-6A district crown with a win. Jackson said the key to that isn’t a secret.
“Everybody doing what they are supposed to do,” he said.
Mixed in with comedic relief is Jackson’s willingness to hold up his end of that, on and off the field.
“He is working hard in my class and is doing well. He is always respectful and I believe he is giving his best in my class,” Boor said. “Whenever I talk with him, he is always respectful and I think he is becoming a good young man.”
Those attributes likely were learned from the strength and commitment his parents, in their own ways, have put forth for him.
Jackson said his dad texts him every day and always tells him to "be great” before each game. His mom is a constant reminder to stay the course and never give up. And his friends — including teammates Taurean York and Mikal Harrison-Pilot, whom he says were his first best friends upon his arrival — are there to get goofy with when the mood strikes.
Those all sound like reasons to smile.