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Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson (47) during the Bulldogs’ game with Arkansas in Dooley Field at Sanford Stadium in Athens, Ga., on Saturday, Oct. 2, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Davis Tucker)

On Oct. 2, redshirt sophomore Daniel Jackson broke through the line of scrimmage to block an Arkansas punt that was picked up in the end zone for a Georgia touchdown.

In front of over 92,000 people in Sanford Stadium and countless others watching on television, that one moment meant more for a town, a high school and players trying to be just like Jackson.

Luke Brown is a senior kicker at North Hall High School in Gainesville, where Jackson went to high school. Just like Jackson did, Brown wants to walk on at Georgia and join his former high school teammate in Athens.

“When I was a freshman, he made sure he knew everyone, even the freshmen. He got to know us and that meant a lot to us,” Brown said. “He’s been a role model for all of us (who are) trying to play in college.”

A leader in high school

Coming into his senior season at North Hall, Jackson had potential options to play in college, but was not highly coveted due to his size as a defensive back. North Hall head coach David Bishop said he was around 5-foot-11 and 160 pounds. Because of Jackson’s smaller size, he didn’t have a lot of colleges looking at him for their team.

Although he did not have many schools offering scholarships, Jackson still commanded attention in the North Hall locker room. Bishop said Jackson was a quiet player on the team, but still was a leader for the Trojans on and off the field.

“When Dan did speak, people listened,” Bishop said. “There were times where he would put his foot down, and it would definitely change the mindset of the kids.”

In high school, Jackson played on offense, defense and special teams. He was a defensive back, running back and also returned kickoffs. He was an All-State defensive back his senior season ending with 1,785 all-purpose yards, 26 touchdowns and four interceptions his final season at North Hall.

While playing high school football, Jackson also ran track and played basketball. He is currently the school record holder in 110-meter hurdles. Bishop said playing multiple sports and his work ethic in the weight room contributed to his speed and skill on the football field.

“He was a competitor in everything he did,” Bishop said. “Those are the things that mark a true champion, and just your willingness to compete and everyday get better at whatever it is you do.”

Despite his success in high school, Jackson was still unsure if he’d play in college. He had an opportunity to play at Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. However, Jackson elected to attend Georgia, where he had already been accepted early, and walk onto the football team.

Making an impact in Athens

In his first year at Georgia, Jackson redshirted and was a member of the scout team. He remained on the scout team in 2020, and got his first action at Sanford Stadium in the 2021 G-Day game, finishing with an interception for the Red team.

That interception was the start of things to come in 2021, where Jackson has appeared in every game this season. He has 13 total tackles through six games as a defensive back, including a team-leading six tackles against Auburn after replacing Christopher Smith, who injured his arm.

“He hones in on his craft both on and off the field,” Smith said of Jackson. “He’s a very great guy, an amazing person. We became great friends very quickly and he’s jelled very well with us.”

Jackson was able to make an impact this season in large part due to multiple defensive backs leaving Georgia. Players like Eric Stokes and Tyson Campbell left the Bulldogs for the NFL while Tyrique Stevenson and Major Burns transferred out of the program.

Because the Bulldogs needed help at defensive back, head coach Kirby Smart said Jackson worked his way up the depth chart. He earned respect in the locker room due to his work ethic.

“I call on players and say ‘James Cook, who do you respect on the team?’ Two guys he mentioned first, Ladd McConkey and Daniel Jackson,” Smart said. ”Kids know, kids see it and he’s a special player.”

Bishop told Jackson to give full effort for at least one year at Georgia, because Jackson could set a standard for younger players trying to follow in his footsteps. Because of Jackson’s performance, he has made his name, and his town, known so that other walk-ons can make an impact in later seasons.

“You also heard Kirby say, ‘Dan Jackson from I have no idea where,’” Bishop said. “But I think he’s gonna know where, because of Dan.”

Printed with permission from The Red & Black independent student media organization based in Athens.

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