Petrino’s system the right fit for Frankfort wide receiver

Brad Stephens

If it hadn’t been for Bobby Petrino, Aaron Jackson would’ve never found his way to WKU.

It’s ironic, because Petrino thought he was lost when he was finding his way to go meet Jackson.

Soon after taking over in December as WKU’s coach, Petrino set out to recruit Jackson, a 6-foot-3, 190 pound wide receiver from Frankfort High School.

FHS, with an enrollment of ___, competes on the Class 1A level of KHSAA football — the level reserved for the state’s smallest schools.

When Petrino pulled into town, the Toppers’ first-year coach thought he’d taken a wrong turn.

“I was lost because when I drove up to the high school there was just one brick building,” Petrino said. “I called the coach and said ‘I was supposed to be here and the GPS said I was here, but I don’t see anything but one building.’

“He said, “Oh yeah that’s it, come on in.”

Soon enough Petrino made his way in and met Jackson. By January, the receiver had committed to play football at WKU.

Jackson signed his letter of intent Wednesday, joining five other wide receivers to become part of the Toppers’ 33-man 2013 signing class.

Petrino’s wide-open, spread offense — a system that uses wide receivers much more than that of Petrino’s predecessor, Willie Taggart — was a major draw for Jackson, FHS coach Craig Foley said.

“Before the coaching change I don’t know that Western was (a good fit),” Foley said. “Now with the coaching change, who wouldn’t want to play in that type of offense? It’s exciting.”

Jackson had an impressive prep career at FHS, capped off by a 48-catch, 1,251-yard, 15-touchdown season in 2012. He also played defense, tallying 79 tackles, three interceptions and four fumble recoveries for the 11-2 Panthers.

Several schools, including Navy, Air Force and Bowling Green, offered Jackson a scholarship. Some of those schools wanted him to play in college as a defensive back. Petrino’s offense was the deciding factor in signing with the Toppers, he said.

“I had talked to Western a little bit, but as far as their offense before Petrino came, they didn’t need any more receivers because of the offense they had,” Jackson said. “If it wasn’t for Petrino, I probably wouldn’t have ended up at Western. It was a good spot.”

During their talks Petrino compared Jackson to former Louisville wide receiver and current Atlanta Falcon Harry Douglas. Playing under Petrino, Douglas was a first team All-Big East receiver in 2006 and 2007 and a second team AP All-American in 2007.

Like Jackson, Douglas made a name for himself as a big, sure-handed target at wideout.

“(Petrino) was just comparing me to him and said if I want to get to the next level after college, I should commit to Western,” Jackson said.

Jackson also reminds wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas of another prolific college wideout — himself.

Thomas tallied more than 1,500 receiving yards during a three-year career at Miami, helping the Hurricanes to national championships in 1989 and 1991. He was later featured in ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary, “The U.”

“When I watched (Jackson) I thought of myself a lot,” Thomas said. “I played on a team with a lot of fast guys but I was the one that caught a lot of passes and that’s what it all boils down to.

“You’re looking for the most consistent guy, the guy that makes plays… That’s what I see in Aaron.”

Petrino promised Jackson he’d have a chance to play his freshman year rather than redshirt, Jackson said.

That means he’ll have a chance to take the field against an old friend and rival in his first collegiate game.

Wide receiver Ryan Timmons of Franklin County High School, FHS’ crosstown rival, signed his letter of intent with Kentucky Wednesday. Jackson and Timmons, a four-star prospect, played youth league, middle school and high school football against each other.

On August 31 Jackson’s Toppers will face Timmons’ Wildcats at LP Field in Nashville for each player’s collegiate debut.

“I told (Timmons) we won’t need any trick plays this year, we’re just going to beat you all,” a smiling Jackson said. “I said I’ll see you the 31st and he said alright.”