Dec. 12, 2013
Jackson rises to challenge in Bearcat backfieldBy David Boyce | Northwest vs. Grand Valley State | Saturday, Dec. 14, 2:30 p.m. | Bearcat Stadium
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MARYVILLE, Mo. - If Northwest Missouri State redshirt freshman tailback Phil Jackson II turns in a few more performance like the one he had in the NCAA Division II quarterfinals, more than a few people will come up with an obvious nickname for him.
Jackson’s name is already alongside two iconic Bearcat running backs in the storied playoff record book at Northwest.
In a 59-21 victory over St. Cloud State last week, Jackson, the third string running back, rushed for four touchdowns, tying the single game playoff record held by Xavier Omon and LaRon Council.
Put in a few more performances like that and Phil Jackson, a native of Carol Stream, Ill., might one day be known as the Zen Master of Maryville. Carol Stream is only 34 miles from Chicago. The Chicago Bulls won six NBA titles under Phil Jackson. Jackson went on to win five more NBA titles in Los Angeles. All that success earned him the Zen Master moniker.
But that kind of talk about the Bearcats’ Jackson is far down the road.
“I want to stay humble always and do my 1/11,” Jackson said. “As long as we do our 1/11, we will be ok. I just want to help the team the best I can. Bearcats always go first.”
Jackson and all the Bearcats will take this mindset into Saturday afternoon for the NCAA Division II semifinals.
Northwest, 13-0, takes on playoff rival Grand Valley State, 12-2, at 2:30 p.m. at Bearcat Stadium. The last time the two teams faced each other was 2009 when the Bearcats beat Grand Valley 30-23 in the Division II championship game.
Northwest has faced Grand Valley four times in the playoffs of which three were in the championship game. The two teams are 2-2 against each other, including the memorable 34-16 victory by Northwest in the semifinals on Dec. 8, 2007 on an icy field at Bearcat Stadium in sub zero wind chill conditions.
In all likelihood, the fifth installment of this rivalry will be filled with memorable moments as these two proud football programs battle for one of the spots in the title game.
Jackson’s biggest impact will probably be on the special teams. It is where the young Bearcats get their initiation into Northwest football their first full season.
“Playing special teams has been a big thing for him,” Northwest senior tailback Billy Creason said.
By playing well on special teams and working hard each day in practice, other opportunities arise as Jackson found out last week when he carried the ball 15 times for 117 yards and the four touchdowns.
“No. 1, when you are the third string tailback, to come to practice every day and stay focused and motivated is huge,” Northwest coach Adam Dorrel said. “That was the big thing that caught our eye. He has really been focused and motivated in practice even though he hasn’t been playing much.”
Another factor was Jackson learning how to pick up blitzes to protect the quarterback.
Defensive coordinators come up with masterful ways to get to the quarterback.
“The thing we noticed is his blitz pick up the last few weeks has gotten better,” Dorrel said. “That was kind of a weakness for him in fall camp and early in the season. He was giving up too many blitzes that you can’t give up. It is great to see him come around.”
Jackson showed what he can do when he has the ball in his hands. It gives the Bearcats another option in the running game behind Creason and Robert Burton III.
“He got his coming out party and it was awesome,” Creason said. “It was awesome to see. I love seeing back-ups step up like that. It is huge.”
Grand Valley now has to at least be aware of what Jackson can do and plan for it.
“He finishes his runs,” Dorrel said. “The thing about a third string back is you got to know he is going to go in and hang on to the football. He did awesome with that all week, finishing his runs.
“I said this kid can do it.”
Jackson gave more than a glimpse to Northwest fans of the future.
As well as Jackson performed on the field, the character he displayed after the game was even more impressive. Sure, he was happy to contribute to Northwest’s victory, but he was modest about it. In fact, his words were similar to senior quarterback Trevor Adams.
“I first want to give credit to God and my mom and my O-line and the whole offense,” Jackson said. “They made it easy. Honestly, I only had to make a few guys miss.”
The best part about the quarterfinal victory for Jackson was it means the team is still playing.
“It feels great,” he said. “It means I get to be with my family even longer. There is no better feeling.”
What will it take to get to Florence, Ala.?
“Same thing we’ve been doing the entire playoffs,” Jackson said. “Do our 1/11 and we will get it done.”
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