Connor Jackson was a second team all-region running back last season in Northern Class 5A.
His junior year performance isn’t in the same weight class as what he’s doing in his senior season.
Jackson, a Douglas High football captain, leads the state of Nevada with 1,362 yards rushing through eight games, averaging eight yards per carry.
Prior to Friday’s clash with Wooster, Jackson was 65th in the nation in rushing yards. He’s posted 21 touchdowns on the ground (the most in Nevada) and has a team-high four interceptions on defense.
Rarely do you see one defender able to wrap up Jackson in the open field. Typically, defenders are hanging on him as he carries them forward.
“A lot of hard work in the weight room,” Jackson said. “I’ve grown a lot since last season.”
Jackson has at least one score in every game this season and has been held to less than 100 yards on the ground once.
He has three games this fall with 200-plus rushing yards.
One of the most notable changes to Jackson’s game is his breakaway speed. His vision along with his top-end speed have been progressing all offseason, but being able to shift into the final gear came with his first year running track.
Elbows in, not out
Last spring, Jackson joined the Tiger track team for the first time.
He first came out of the blocks in the 100-meter dash, clocking times around 12.1 seconds. By the end of spring, he was stopping watches at 11.41.
Douglas football assistant coach and sprints coach Steven Nelms said the most prominent improvement has been Jackson’s arms.
“We hammered getting those elbows in and relaxing the hands a little bit,” said Nelms. “A lot of that came from fixing his form and learning how to run.”
Nelms said the conversation around track started light, but Nelms knew Jackson’s dedication to his craft would nudge him toward a new spring sport.
It’s a unique change and not necessarily the easiest one.
“He’s worked super hard and he’s a very coachable kid,” Nelms said. “Changing running styles is very challenging. We all run a certain way, so just really trying to make that something he doesn’t have to think about. It’s a lot of reps and dedication on his part.”
Jackson’s commitment to the changes has turned into a mindless approach on the field.
“It sped me up a lot,” Jackson said. “The goal was to get faster. … I used to run a lot with my elbows out. Coach Nelms really fixed my form.”
Jackson, who said track also helped build his legs, will be back on the track this spring.
“You can just see his mechanics are smoother than they have been in the past,” said Douglas head coach Kyle Mays. “Coach Nelms did a great job getting him there and Connor is just a really coachable kid.”
His love of his lineman
It’s Jackson’s second year behind essentially the same group of linemen.
“I’ve been working a lot with the line. I know what they’re going to be doing,” said Jackson. “Just knowing how my line is going to act against a certain front.”
They clear the way for the senior tailback and he knows his guys up front may not necessarily get enough credit.
“I like all of them,” laughed Jackson. “Austin Pitts, Michael Cahill, Sage Adie, they’re always getting down. Jack Ross and Michael White they’re always working on the ends and Ledger (Soule) is getting snaps and getting off the ball fast.”
Another year of experience behind the line has helped Jackson’s vision on the field.
“They spent a ton of time together in the weight room. They all got tremendously stronger and they believe in each other,” Mays said.
Jackson’s personal trainer, Brock Peterson, holds the Douglas High single-game rushing record (343 rushing yards against Carson in 2007).
Jackson said Peterson has been hoping the Tiger senior can knock off his record this fall.
“They talked to me about it. They’re all happy for me,” said Jackson.
Spike Agosta holds the school’s single-season rushing record with 1,945 set in 11 games in 2004.
Currently, Jackson is 583 yards off his pace with two regular season games and at least one postseason game remaining.
Kevin Lehr holds the single-season rushing touchdown record with 27, putting Jackson six touchdowns off his pace.
The senior wants to lead the state in rushing yards, but winning games is his priority. And he’s starting to consider playing college football.
“I haven’t really been looking into that, but starting to do more so now,” Jackson said about college. “I want to do it a little bit, but if the opportunity is there, I’ll take it.”
(Connor Jackson looks up field during his 304-yard rushing performance against Galena in late September. It was the fourth-most rushing yards in a single game in Douglas history. / Ron Harpin)