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Preseason All-Arkansas Football Team:
Colton Jackson wasn’t starting for Conway when he accepted Arkansas’ scholarship offer before his junior season, and he’s been trying to prove himself worthy every since
Conway High School's offensive lineman Colton Jackson works the line during practice Monday, Aug. 23, 2014, in Conway.
CONWAY -- When the University of Arkansas offered Conway left tackle Colton Jackson a scholarship before his junior season last year, he accepted right away.
That put him on the spot.
At a glance
PLAYER Colton Jackson
POSITION Left tackle
WEIGHT 296 pounds
NOTEWORTHY Orally committed to Arkansas. … Started last season for Conway’s Class 7A state semifinalist team. … Named to Arkansas Democrat-Gazette’s All-Arkansas Preps and All-Metro teams as a junior. … Graded out at 84 percent blocking and allowed only two sacks last season.
Coach Clint Ashcraft had confidence in Jackson, who was a backup behind Bryton Booher as a sophomore before taking over as the Wampus Cats' starter last season. But when the Razorbacks made their move, it changed the game for the big left tackle.
"When they pulled the trigger with their offer, I think he realized that he's got a lot of potential and that he's got to step it up and make sure I'm living up to this," Ashcraft said. "I think it really motivated him to do better."
Jackson started 13 games last season, giving up only two sacks while helping lead the Wampus Cats to the semifinals of the Class 7A state playoffs, where they lost to eventual champion Bentonville. He also graded out at 84 percent blocking and finished with 18 knockdown blocks.
That performance earned him a spot on the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's All-Arkansas Preps and All-Metro teams.
"We expect him to be even better this season," Ashcraft said.
So do others, which is why Jackson heads up the first-team offense on the 2014 All-Arkansas Preps preseason team.
Jackson, 6-6, gained about 50 pounds to prepare for his junior season, going from 250 to 300. He has maintained that and is practicing at 296 pounds this fall.
Jackson showed potential as a freshman, but he also played basketball for Conway which caused him to miss some of the football team's offseason workouts going into his sophomore season. Ashcraft said it took Jackson some time to catch up on the mental part of football, which contributed to him being stuck behind Booher on the depth chart.
It was a different story in Jackson's junior season.
"He got all his run rules down and his pass blocking schemes down," Ashcraft said. "He made a big jump understanding what his job was."
Playing behind Booher also motivated Jackson.
"I knew I had to step up to the plate," Jackson said. "I knew I had to work hard to fill in that spot."
Jackson attended Arkansas' Elite Camp last July in Fayetteville, and he was one of five players who orally committed to the Razorbacks within a 22-minute span that weekend, joining receivers Torrance Mosley and Corey McBride, linebacker Dwayne Eugene and cornerback Henre' Toliver, all of whom were from Louisiana.
Jackson was the only recruit from the 2015 class among the five. Eugene and Toliver are in their freshman seasons at Arkansas, but Mosley and McBride didn't end up with the Razorbacks because of academic concerns.
Committing to Arkansas led to an immediate change in Jackson, who has always lived in Conway. Jackson said he understood the pressure and expectations that come when an instate athlete signs with the Razorbacks, particularly when the athlete commits as a sophomore.
"It gave me a lot of confidence," he said. "I knew I was going to have a lot of eyes on me to see if I really deserved the scholarship after my sophomore year. I just went out there and tried to prove to people that I could play."
Conway offensive line coach Brooks Hollingsworth said Jackson looks the part of a Division I offensive lineman.
"You can't teach height. You can't teach that size," said Hollingsworth, a former offensive line coach at the University of Central Arkansas who spent 32 seasons in the college ranks. "Then you add the feet to it, and he's just a gem."
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Hollingsworth said he likes Jackson's pass-blocking ability but that he needs to work on his run blocking.
"He's a little rough right now, but I think they're going to take him and make him even better than what he's been," Hollingsworth said. "He's got all the tools, but it's just a matter of doing it every time."
Conway returns eight other starters on offense this season but brings back only two on defense, so Jackson said he knows the Wampus Cats' offense will have to pick up the slack early on while the defense develops.
"We know a lot of pressure is going to be on our offense this year," Jackson said. "We have to keep going."
Ashcraft said Jackson's story should provide all the motivation his team needs to improve this season.
"I told our guys when he got his offer, everybody ought to be proud because that's going to put more eyes on Colton, which will in turn leads to more opportunities for other guys," Ashcraft said. "It was a big deal for our program."
Sports on 08/24/2014