Former Division I player revitalizes football team

Photo by Hanna Grannis

The Pioneers intercept a new defensive coordinator

By John Trupin /// Staff Writer

There is an apocryphal saying that goes, “those who can’t do, teach.” That statement could not be less true of new Lewis & Clark Football Assistant Coach Eric Jackson, who was hired this year as Defensive Coordinator for the Pioneers.  His task will be to invigorate a defense that last year ranked dead last in the Northwest Conference in points per game, sacks and total yards allowed. Jackson said the biggest challenge in coaching is simply, “getting people to make good decisions.” That’s the goal Jackson pursues in his work both on the field and off.

Born and raised in Ann Arbor, Mich., Jackson was surrounded by football passion.  As a child, he and every other boy in Ann Arbor grew up dreaming of playing college football for the Michigan Wolverines. After attending Ypsilanti High School, a regional powerhouse that has produced many college and professional players, Jackson was able to live his dream of playing Division I college football at Eastern Michigan University.

 After graduation, Jackson returned home to coach high school football and began a career that has now spanned 27 years at the collegiate level.  Jackson said with a chuckle that he is “nicer” now, and that he finds coaching far less stressful than when he began. His perspective is simple: “Football is football. From one level to another the speed changes, but it’s all relative. The people don’t change.” After coaching at the Division I & Division III levels and interning with the Detroit Lions, his evaluation is less a clichéd opinion and more a conclusion drawn from a from a lifelong study on the sport.

Watching a football practice means watching an environment of barely controlled chaos. Every drill, however, has purpose, especially when installing a new style of defense.  After Jackson’s 10 years as a coach at Princeton University, it’s taken as high praise when he describes his young defense as “a very smart group of kids” and calmly says that improvement “takes time, defense in football is all about instincts.” Jackson’s calm demeanor shifts to enthusiasm as he works with the players.

“It’s contagious,” said defensive captain Andrew Traver (’15) of the new coach’s energy, “I’m very happy with [Coach Jackson’s] addition as the new defensive coordinator and very excited about playing in his defensive scheme.”

Jackson won’t accept excuses about the differences in the physical and numerical size of the LC team compared to perennially strong Northwest Conference teams like Linfield and Willamette.  Having coached successful teams with undersized players many times, Jackson points to confidence as a game-changer: “At [Ithaca College] we had small teams, but they believed that they were going to win. Building confidence and raising expectations will go a long way to improving a young team that is made up of over one-third freshmen,” said Jackson.

Off the field, Coach Jackson lives the lessons he preaches every day at practice. His work with student athletes helps “combat ignorance” about NCAA academic requirements and helps high school student-athletes graduate and pursue their dreams of playing their sports at the highest level.  While at Princeton, Jackson visited the University of Michigan in his hometown and decided to create a version of a program he saw doing great things in his own community–the Princeton Football Women’s Clinic for Breast Cancer Research.  The work done by the team for the clinic has impacted not only those facing breast cancer, but the players and Jackson himself. Lewis and Clark’s defensive unit appears to be in good hands, as does the LC community.

After a tough 23-10 loss to Whittier College on Sept. 20, the Pioneers (0-3) do not play this upcoming weekend. They begin their tough conference schedule on Oct. 6 on the road against Puget Sound. With an extra week of preparation, look for Jackson’s defense and the whole team to get back on track against the Loggers, whom the Pios have defeated each of the last five years.

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