If you are looking for an example of why Brunswick High defensive back/wide receiver Jaylen Jackson is The News’ Coastal Georgia All-Area MVP for the 2017 season, look no further than the Pirates’ crucial region game at Richmond Hill.
Brunswick needed a win against the undefeated Wildcats to force a three-way tie for first place in the region and also had to win by 22 points to make sure it would be the No. 1 seed in the event of a three-way tie.
Richmond Hill was led by wide receiver Sam James, who on Wednesday signed to continue his football career at West Virginia. James played a big role in the previous week’s win over Glynn Academy.
“No matter where Sam lined up, we were going to line Jaylen up on him,” Brunswick High head coach Sean Pender said. “He manned him up and only had three catches all night on Jaylen.”
Jackson, a high-level recruit in his own right having signed to play at Georgia Tech, drew the matchup against James. It was nothing out of the ordinary as he was used to lining up against the opposing team’s top receiver.
“I feel like I’m the best player on the field,” Jackson said. “Nobody can stop me or get past me.”
It was James’ third catch that proved to be problematic for Brunswick’s plan. James caught a late touchdown pass with about a minute to play that cut Brunswick’s lead to 48-34.
“He was apologizing to me as he came off the sidelines,” Pender said of Jackson. “I looked at him and said ‘We’ve got a minute and three seconds, don’t worry about it.’ I asked if he had a minute and three seconds left in him and he said ‘Yes sir.’”
On the next Pirate drive, Jackson broke free down the seam. Quarterback Jamarius Stevens found him, and Jackson leapt over a defender to make the catch and sprinted away from the defense for a 62-yard touchdown to make it 54-34.
“I went to the sidelines and apologized to coach,” Jackson said after giving up the score. “There was a small dude on me, so I was like ‘Coach, just get me the ball and I’ll get it in there.’ He threw it right in the perfect spot, and I caught it and scored.”
On the crucial two-point conversion, Jackson was supposed to hand off on a reverse, but he took it himself and got the score.
“When we needed something, he wanted to be the one with the ball in his hands,” Pender said.
Brunswick got the win by 22 points to secure part of the region title. Had Richmond Hill not lost to Effingham County the following week, the Pirates would have been the No. 1 seed for the playoffs. When the three-way tie became just a two-way tangle, Glynn Academy’s win over Brunswick gave the Red Terrors the No. 1 seed.
Still, the Pirates were the No. 2 seed and took Northside-Warner Robins to the limit in the first round before falling 24-21.
“It was great to get back to the playoffs,” Jackson said. “It was a close game.”
Jackson played a major role in getting Brunswick back to the playoffs for the first time since 2014. As a receiver, Jackson caught 27 passes for 506 yards and six touchdowns. Defensively, he led Brunswick with four interceptions, including returning one for a touchdown. He also had 30 tackles with four tackles for loss, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Jackson was also big on special teams as a returner, where he had a punt return for a touchdown, and as the Pirates’ punter. The Region 2-6A coaches picked Jackson as the region’s overall Player of the Year.
“I was tired, but I could still play,” Jackson said of wearing a lot of hats for the Pirates.
The first time Pender saw Jackson play was actually on the basketball court after he accepted the coaching job last winter.
“What stood out when I got here was his athletic ability,” Pender said. “I was able to watch him play basketball and watch the way he moved around the court, the way he played defense and could slam a basketball. I knew he was a very good athlete. I knew we could use him in all sorts of ways.”
Jackson and the Pirates would get to the Class 6A championship game on the court. So far this season, Jackson is a part of the Pirate hoops squad that is 10-1 on the season. He brings a football mentality to his work on the hardwood.
“Play hard defense, get a little physical when I’m in the paint because most of the time I’ve got to guard the biggest person on the other team and be quicker than everybody,” Jackson said.
Away from the court or the football field, Pender said Jackson stands out as much as he does when his athletic ability is on display.
“He’s just an all-around good kid,” Pender said. “When you talk to him, he’s a very well-mannered individual. He’s a good student. He’s the type of kid you’d like your son or daughter to grow up to be like.”