Richard Davenport covers recruiting for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. He appears weekly on The Red Zone w/ JB on 92.1 FM Fayetteville, The Morning Rush w/ Tye & Tommy on 95.3 FM in Fort Smith; 96.3 FM in Hot Springs; 104.3 FM in Harrison/Mountain Home, 99.5 FM in Fayetteville and The Zone w/ Justin & Wess on 103.7 FM in Little Rock.
The Recruiting Guy:
O-line target Cantwell on a mission to succeed
Jackson Cantwell during a visit to Arkansas
The word average probably won’t ever be used to describe class of 2026 offensive lineman Jackson Cantwell, who visited Arkansas on Saturday.
He scored a 33 on the ACT prior to entering his freshman year even while not completing the math portion. Words like astonishing and mind-blowing could be used to characterize his strength.
Cantwell, 6-8, 278 pounds, of Nixa, Mo., had scholarship offers from Texas A&M, Miami, Missouri, Kansas and Kansas State prior to his visit to Fayetteville. He left Arkansas with an offer.
He’s the son of former U.S. Olympians Christian and Teri Cantwell. His father won a silver medal in the shot put at the 2008 Beijing games, and his mother threw the shot put in the 2000 Sydney games.
The genetically gifted Cantwell has an intense desire to excel.
“He also has the inner drive and the work ethic to be great,” Nixa football coach John Perry said. “That dude is on a mission to be really good and works really hard at it. Growing up, obviously, track and basketball were his two favorites, because, A, parents were in track and, B, he played basketball from the time he was five, because he was bigger than everybody else.
“But probably in the last 12 months, because of the success he’s had, football has probably climbed that list to No. 1. I don’t know if his parents would want to hear that or not.”
His mother was a two-time NCAA champion at SMU and was a 2000 inductee into the SMU Athletics Hall of Fame. His father was a seven-time NCAA All-American at Missouri and was inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame in 2018.
Cantwell has been putting up freakish numbers in the weight room for about a year.
“The other morning he benched press 365 (pounds) four reps. He’s 14 years old,” Perry said. “I don’t even know if it will take until his junior year, but by the time he’s 15 or 16 years old, he’ll probably be one of the top one, two, three players in the country. Southwest Missouri is under recruited because of the population, but folks will find their way to Nixa, Missouri, for him, I promise you.”
According to profootballnetwork.com, the top offensive lineman at the 2022 NFL combine in the bench press had 32 reps of 225 pounds. The lowest number of reps was 18.
“Last year, I put a video up of him doing 225 like 18 or 20 times and it went viral on social media because at that time he might have been 13,” Perry said.
While used to seeing Cantwell do amazing things in the weight room, Perry still has moments when he marvels at the freshman.
“The other morning he’s doing tricep extensions, overhead tricep extensions, with like 185 (pounds) and we’re just looking at him like, ‘Dang, it doesn’t even look right,’” Perry said. “It’s just weird looking.”
Cantwell started last season playing on junior varsity, but two upperclassmen suffered injuries and he was moved up in Week 3 to left tackle. Cantwell took advantage of his opportunity and never relinquished his spot.
He was later named a MaxPreps first team freshman All-American.
“I kind of had to have a talk with the guy that was the left tackle when he got well,” Perry said. “I had to share the story of Tom Brady. Drew Bledsoe got hurt and Tom Brady never gave him the opportunity to come back. The next kid kind of got Tom Brady-ed.”
He scored 40 points for the Eagles’ junior varsity basketball team against Carl Junction and helped the squad to a 22-0 regular-season record. He has a best of 55 feet, 10 inches in the shot put.
He has the state record of 66 feet, 3 1/2 inches in his sights before he leaves high school.
“He’ll probably win the state in the shot put as a ninth grader,” Perry said. “He has a goal to break the state shot put record. He’s a very goal-oriented human being.”
Perry is good friends with offensive line coach Cody Kennedy and holds Sam Pittman in high regard. He believes Kennedy, Pittman and Arkansas’ 41 national championships in men’s track and field give the Razorbacks a shot in their pursuit of Cantwell.
“I go back long enough to when Cody Kennedy was a volunteer assistant at West Alabama and West Georgia, because I’m good friends Will Hall, who’s the head coach at Southern Miss,” Perry said. “Cody came up through those ranks. Arkansas is a pretty cool place right now because of Cody Kennedy and because the head coach is an offensive line guy and they have a history at track.
“(Cantwell) wants to do both in college. He can spit out the names right now of the folks that are NFL offensive linemen and threw the shot in college.”
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