Take, for instance, the case of Woodland High School’s Jonathan Jackson Jr., who had never played an organized sport until his senior year, but signed Thursday to attend the University of South Carolina Upstate on a track scholarship.
Jackson recorded some impressive times this year as a 100-meter and 200-meter sprinter in his first season running. He will attend USC Upstate in the fall and major in business.
“I just wanted to be active my last year. I just wanted to do something with the team and do something different,” Jackson said. “It kind of just happened. I was going to go to college based on my grades anyway. I wasn’t focused on getting a scholarship.”
The talented Jackson fell into the lap of track coach Adrian Steele.
“It’s such a funny story because [Jackson] never ran or did anything his first three years,” Steele said. “His senior year, one of my other sprinters, C.J. Woods, said, ‘Coach, there’s this kid in P.E. class. He’s really fast.’ I said, ‘Tell him to come down.’ So he came on down and practiced a little bit, and I thought, ‘Wow, he’s pretty fast.’”
Jackson ran the 100 in a time of a 10.79 seconds and the 200 in a time of 20.22.
After Jackson ran those times, it was apparent to both he and Steele that an athletic scholarship would be attainable.
“He’s just a great raw sprinter with explosion and quick-twitch fibers,” Steele said. “It’s been a blessing. He’s been such a great kid because he’s appreciative. It’s rare that you get a kid that comes out for a sport and, his first year, gets this opportunity.”
“Whenever I [recorded a personal record] in the 100 meter and coach Steele came to me and said, ‘I can get you into college for free,’ I was pretty pumped up about it,” Jackson said. “I didn’t really realize how good that particular time was or all of my times until the third or fourth meet. From then on, I knew that I would be able to go somewhere.”
Steele actually believes Jackson’s lack of experience may end up benefitting him in his college career.
“I think [Jackson] has a ton of potential because he hasn’t been set with bad habits,” Steele said. “I wish I would have had him longer. He might have went somewhere bigger if I would have had him for four years.”
Of course, Jackson’s father, Jonathan Jackson Sr., knew his son possessed exceptional athleticism from an early age.
“When he was in the yard, I knew he had something. He was always running and playing. He always had speed,” the proud father said. “I got chills just now. It’s wonderful.”
Jackson Jr. credits his father, aunt and coach Steele for helping him attain the scholarship.
“I think he really took a liking to USC Upstate with Coach Natalie Smith, who is a great coach,” Steele said of Smith, who is in her second year at the helm of the school’s men’s and women’s track and field programs. Smith had previously coached the women’s program at Georgia Southern where she won the 2007 Southern Conference Outdoor Women’s Track & Field Championship title and, as a result, was named the 2007 Outdoor Track & Field Coach of the Year.
Athletics was not the only reason Jackson decided to go to USC Upstate, however.
“It’s a really nice campus,” Jackson said of new school. “First and foremost, the way the program is, it would give me a good chance to blossom and really improve. And the most important part is that it has a really good business program. That really drew my attention because that’s what I wanted to major in. I want to start my own business someday.”
Jackson was also recruited by Brewton-Parker College and Morehouse College.
“I’m going to try and [set a personal record] again in track,” Jackson said of his goals once he gets on campus. “Of course, I want to help out the program, but I want to maintain academic excellence every day because that’s the main reason I am going to school.”