Jackson becoming a defensive force

Sophomore Line Backer Andrew Jackson saw his only action last season against Middle Tennessee late in the season. Jackson’s intensity earned him the starting middle linebacker spot for WKU’s season opener against Kentucky Thursday.

Brad Stephens

Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said he sensed something special in sophomore middle linebacker Andrew Jackson as soon as WKU players strapped on pads during fall camp.

In one particular practice, Jackson was responsible for stopping a scout team quarterback on an option play.

He used his 6-foot-1, 250-pound frame to barrel through the line of scrimmage and force the quarterback to pitch  to the tailback, who he then chased down and tackled for a loss.

“He had no business even being around that play and he ran it down,” Guidry said. “I was like, ‘Wow, that big guy can run.’”

Jackson has run and tackled his way from a relatively unknown player to one of the Toppers’ defensive leaders in a little more than a month.

He was forced to sit out much of his freshman season due to issues with the NCAA Eligibility Center.

Jackson said missing an entire year provided plenty of motivation for the 2011 season.

“Missing that season basically taught me how to fight adversity,” he said. “I just started practicing like it was my last time practicing.”

Jackson used the motivation to come out in fall camp with an intensity that caused coaches to nickname him “Angry” Andrew.

Jackson, who was not on WKU’s two-deep depth chart at the start of fall camp, turned heads to the point he was named starting middle linebacker for WKU’s opener against Kentucky.

 The college football world got its introduction to Jackson that night, as he racked up a team-high 12 tackles in his first career start.

Linebackers coach Karl Maslowski said he was most impressed by the leadership Jackson showed from the middle linebacker position against the Wildcats, making calls that put his defenders in the right spots.

“For a young guy, he really has the ear of coaches and players,” Maslowski said. “Everyone follows him, and when we realized he was that kind of leader, we knew that he had all kinds of potential to be a starter.”

Jackson said he has tried to put more effort into the mental aspects of the game, especially watching film.

He said he watches more than 10 hours of film every week whether during free time or in meetings with coaches.

When he’s not watching film of himself or opponents, Jackson said he watches footage of some of football’s greatest middle linebackers, trying to learn from them.

He said his favorites are Baltimore Ravens Pro-Bowler Ray Lewis (they both attended Kathleen High School in Lakeland, Fla.) and NFL Hall of Famer Dick Butkus

Maslowski said he sees similarities between Jackson and Butkus.

“On the field he was the meanest guy on Earth and knew where everyone was supposed to be,” Maslowski said of Butkus. “Not that Drew’s at that level yet, but he reminds me of Dick Butkus the way he runs around and tries to inflict pain on people.”

Sophomore outside linebacker Xavius Boyd got to experience that pain firsthand when the two wrestled during a spring drill.

Boyd said he lost to Jackson that day but added that the two are always competing, whether in the weight room, running sprints or on the practice field.

Jackson said the two have developed a close friendship, saying, “he’d fight for me and I’d fight for him.”

Boyd said playing next to Jackson gives him a greater appreciation of his friend’s football abilities.

“I feed off him,” Boyd said. “When he makes a big hit that just makes me want to make a big hit. 

“When someone is that big and fast and has a mindset to go smash people, you want him on your team.”