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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Walk-on receiver may make early impact on football field

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Will Ferguson
Will Ferguson / Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Men’s football

Trying to walk onto a Division I football program is a difficult task for most prospective football players. At Arizona, head coach Rich Rodriguez has a bit of familiarity with that idea, as he walked onto West Virginia as a defensive back in 1981.

At the beginning of spring football, Rodriguez said he intended to add a few walk-ons to the roster, and he held open tryouts at the first few practices. Luckily for receiver Johnny Jackson, he already went through that process, as he was added to the roster in the fall.

“I like Johnny, I like the way he competes, it’s important to him,” Rodriguez said. “He’s out here to prove himself.”

Having that extra time to adjust to the playbook has certainly been beneficial, but Jackson knows it’s still going to be an uphill battle for him to get playing time.

“I feel like I gotta work harder than everyone else, it keeps me hungry,” Jackson said. “I come out every day with a chip on my shoulder, I can’t ease up at all.”

On Saturday, Jackson got some reps in the open scrimmage in Glendale, Ariz., and impressed his coach, catching four balls for 26 yards on the day.

“Saturday was a good scrimmage,” Jackson said. “That was my first time getting loose and I was running with the twos so I got a chance.”

At St. Augustine High School in California, Jackson played running back, defensive back and was the team’s kick and punt returner. In his senior season, he ran for 411 yards on 59 carries with five touchdowns, had 25 receptions for 393 yards, and added 637 yards and a touchdown returning punts and kicks.

Next to Arizona’s top receivers, such as the 6-foot-4 Dan Buckner and 6-foot-3 Austin Hill, Jackson is short in stature at just 5-foot-10, 180-pounds. But Jackson is not too worried.

“I’m a shorter type so I’m like a scat, I’m pretty quick so I can get open and through the holes and whatnot,” Jackson said.

Rodriguez said that Jackson could potentially play a role on the team this season.

“He wants to prove himself and every chance it seems he gets in practice he’s making the most of it. It’s not just on offense but on special teams,” Rodriguez said. “I think Johnny’s gonna have a chance to prove himself even further and have a big role on this football team.”

There have been quite a few stories in recent years of walk-ons becoming stars and eventually making it to the NFL, including former USC linebacker Clay Matthews and former Hawaii record-setting quarterback Colt Brennan. Perhaps the most famous walk-on athlete was Rudy Ruettiger, a tiny Notre Dame wide receiver immortalized in the classic 1993 film, “Rudy”.

Jackson, though, can claim to be more physically suited to play receiver in college. In terms of size and style, Jackson probably most resembles former University of Miami walk-on and first-round NFL draft pick, Santana Moss.

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