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Park Ridge Saturday 11.10.12. Glenbard North's Justin Jackson (20) runs past Maine South's Nathan Gruber (21) and his teammates for a second half touchdown during their Class 8A third-round football playoff game on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, in Park Ridge.
Life is different around the Jackson household now that Phil has gone off to college.
“I miss having him at home,” Glenbard North junior Justin Jackson said. “Except for the food. He used to eat everything.”
It’s a good thing the refrigerator is well-stocked these days, because Jackson needs all the energy he can muster now that he’s inherited the Panthers’ featured back role from his older brother.
Jackson has more than 80 carries and 400-plus yards the past two weeks along with seven touchdowns in Class 8A wins over Stevenson (23-14) and previously unbeaten Maine South (29-23). He didn’t get any breathers, either, playing cornerback and punting as well. He took over the latter role when Mario Rodriguez — also the DuPage Valley Conference Defensive Player of the Year – was sidelined by a torn ACL.
And there won’t be any rest for Jackson this week, as the No. 6 Panthers (11-1) — in the state semifinals for the fourth time in six seasons — travel to Loyola to face the No. 3 Ramblers (11-1) with a trip to state on the line.
Is Jackson’s workload catching up with him? Well, he’s not a Transformer, so yes, a little.
“Definitely, after 200-some odd carries, your body is going to slow down a bit,” the 6-foot, 175-pounder said. “[But] I feel better than I have have the past two weeks.”
But Jackson knew something like this was coming when his brother graduated after leading the Panthers to the 8A semis, so he prepared for it.
“I got in the weight room a lot more,” he said. “Even though I look slim, I was way slimmer last year.”
Jackson doesn’t just have the physical side of the game down, according to Glenbard North coach Ryan Wilkens.
“He catches onto things so quick,” Wilkens said. “He understands what’s going on with every aspect: defensive line, offensive line, linebacker. It’s not just him [knowing about] running the football, him playing defensive back. He has no problem saying anything [to his teammates] because he knows it’s right.”
That’s not to say Jackson is arrogant. “He knows when he makes a mistake,” Wilkens said. “There’s not much ego.”
That also goes for quarterback Brian Murphy, who is headed to Michigan to wrestle. And Murphy’s emergence as a passer has given the Panthers a dimension they haven’t always had and taken some of the heat off Jackson.
“They have to respect our play-action game,” Jackson said. “[Before] people were putting 10 in the box, we would still be running. That’s how much he’s grown.”
And without his brother around to clean out the fridge, Jackson has grown as well.