Steele (Cibolo, Texas) defensive end Mark Jackson started high school as a basketball player, but went out for the football team his freshman year after some urging from then-coach Mike Jinks, who guided Steele to the Class 5A Division II state title in 2010 and is now associate head coach at Texas Tech.
Four years later, Jackson will finish his high school career as one of the top 15 weak-side ends in the nation, with a commitment to Texas A&M and at the U.S. Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.
Jackson received his honorary jersey Tuesday when the Selection Tour presented by American Family Insurance came to Steele.
“My first love was basketball,” Jackson recalls. “I didn’t go to many football games because I was so wrapped up with basketball. But then Coach Jinks talked to me. He told me to come out here and just try it. I’ve been playing football ever since.”
RELATED: Follow the U.S. Army All-American Bowl Selection Tour
“The expectations are always high here,” he said. “We always are expected to perform and go out there and make plays. Honestly, being in the culture so long, you expect to win every game. But you have to put in the hard work for that.
“You main focus is to show people that, yes, we are better than you as individuals, and we’re better than you as a team as well. Our main goal, overall, is state. It’s state or bust, honestly.”
Jackson made the varsity in football as a sophomore and was outstanding in his first season as a starter last year when he was a junior, racking up 10 sacks as the Knights advanced to the 6A Division II state semifinals and finished 13-2. Jackson didn’t start as a sophomore, but he still finished with5 ½ sacks and had nine tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
“He took a huge jump from his sophomore to his junior year, and I expected an even bigger jump his senior year,” Steele head coach Scott Lehnhoff said. “He has figured it out, from stopping the run to being able to get after the passer. Last year, he took a step in being able to stop the run.”
Jackson had 52 tackles, including 29 for losses, and forced five fumbles as a junior last season
This year, Lenhoff was looking for Jackson to be a leader and make everyone around him better. The coach called Jackson “a special talent.”
Jackson has been, as Steele is 9-0 entering the regular season finale Friday at Canyon (New Braunfels, Texas). Jackson has 35 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and six sacks thus far.
Jackson committed to Texas A&M in late May after making his sixth unofficial visit to campus. He chose the Aggies over Oklahoma.
Jackson is currently ranked as the No. 13 player at his position, the No. 28 player overall in the state of Texas and should get even better when he gets to Texas A&M. Jackson turned 17 on Sept. 10, so he is a full year younger than his grade level.
Because of basketball, he also did not spend a lot of time early in his high school career in the Steele offseason program in the weightroom. At nearly 6-3 and 226, he could get bigger very quickly.
“He’s got kind of what they’re looking for as far as a pass-rushing, explosive, quick-twitch athlete off the edge,” Lehnhoff said. “You see it in the NFL today and you see it at the college level. As much as people are throwing the football, they all want pass rushers. Those guys are willing to pay big money for them in the NFL, and they’re a premium at the college level as well.”
USA TODAY High School Sports contributed to this report