Strong safety Phillip Jackson has scored three defensive touchdowns this season despite playing on a bad ankle.
Strong safety Phillip Jackson has given the Bastrop Rams something they have desperately needed — a defensive game-changer.
Shortly after being promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach, Adrian Burnette said he wanted the defense to create more turnovers and to get off the field on third-and-long. For the most part — excluding the Franklin Parish game — the unit has responded.
Jackson hasn't done it alone, but the 5-7, 175-pound senior has been the most spectacular catalyst in the defense's resurgence. His play in Friday night's 38-23 victory over West Ouachita may have been Jackson's most impressive defensive gem yet.
With the Chiefs facing fourth-and-three from the Bastrop 36, Jackson shot into the backfield, knocked the ball away from the quarterback on a designed option, scooped up the loose ball and sailed 56 yards unimpeded to the end zone.
"I saw it was a pitch," Jackson said. "I hit the quarterback and when I saw the ball pop out, I picked it up and took off. As soon as I picked the ball up, I saw nothing but open field; green grass."
Jackson's touchdown gave the Rams a 25-0 lead in an eventual 38-13 victory. Scoring a touchdown in his final homecoming game held no special significance for Jackson.
"Any time you can score a touchdown, it's good, whether it's homecoming or not," Jackson said.
With three defensive touchdowns on the season, Jackson clearly knows his way to the end zone. His first two scores came in back-to-back games in Weeks 2 and 3 on a scoop and score vs. Airline and a pick-6 against Calvary Baptist. Both touchdowns covered 46 yards.
"It's always good to get those extra touchdowns whether it's special teams or defense," Burnette said.
Although he did not score a touchdown in Week 1, Jackson was named the Rams' Defensive Player of the Week after intercepting a pass and causing and recovering a fumble in a 20-12 loss to New Orleans George Washington Carver.
Despite his long list of contributions, Jackson doesn't consider himself to be the leader of the Rams' defense.
"(Linebacker) T.J. Blanch is the captain of the defense," Jackson said. "We all feed off of him."
Jackson had been relatively quiet over the past few weeks before the West Ouachita game. Besides the fumble return for 6, he recovered another fumble and stopped a running play on fourth-and-short.
"I didn't really make any big plays the last three weeks," Jackson said Friday night. "Coach (Korea) Davis told me he wanted some big plays and I came through. I always try to make big plays."
Jackson was quick to point out the offenses contributions in Friday night's win.
"I have to give a shout out to our quarterback and receivers," Jackson said, referring to QB Quaterius Hawkins and wide receivers SirQuan Hawkins, Calvert Johnson and Christian Smith. "Even though it was wet out there, they were able to throw and catch."
Amazingly, Jackson hasn't been at full strength the entire season.
"Phillip missed the entire preseason," Burnette said. "He saw his first action in Week 1. The whole season, he has played through nagging injuries. They haven't been severe enough to keep him out, but there is something to be said for having to deal with it on a regular basis."
Burnette says he tries to monitor Jackson's practice time to make sure he's available on Friday nights.
"I don't want to overuse him," Burnette said. "I don't want him to put too much pressure on that ankle."
Coming off of a 53-52 Week 8 victory over Franklin Parish, Jackson says the Rams' defense went into the West Ouachita game with a chip on their shoulder."
"We came back with the attitude that we can't be beat," Jackson said. "With that attitude, we can go far, but we have to play even better vs. Neville. It's probably going to be our toughest game of the year."
Bastrop (5-3, 2-0) hosts eight-time defending District 2-4A champion Neville (5-3, 2-0) Thursday at 7 p.m. in the regular season finale.
Jackson was in the third grade the last time the Rams beat the Tigers in 2008.
"I really didn't follow football back then," Jackson laughed.
Jackson has thrived at strong safety since being moved from cornerback two years ago.
"Cornerback is kind of boring because you don't get to do a lot of hitting," Jackson said. "At strong safety, you can hit people and make big plays."
Jackson hopes to get the opportunity to play college football. If not, he plans to attend the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and go into engineering.
Burnette is in no hurry to see Jackson's high school career end.
Following the Rams 45-30 Week 3 victory over Calvary, Burnette said, “Phillip Jackson continues to be the best football player on the team. He’s playing 60 percent at best. He comes in at halftime barely able to walk. We’re trying to find a way to give him a break, and he gets a pick and takes it to the house on a bum ankle.
“He’s not our best athlete, he’s not our best defensive back, but he’s our best football player as far as knowledge of the game and knowing where he’s supposed to be.”
Seven weeks later, Burnette hasn't changed his mind.
"Phillip just continues to make plays, which is always a good thing," Burnette said. "He's still our best football player."