Back of All Trades
By Raj Sagar,
Virginia Athletics Media Relations
Football is a game of defined roles. Each of the 11 players on the field must perform his job for a given play to be successful.
Likened to chess, football revolves around the notion that the individual has a fixed ability, and it is the collective effort of those individuals that, when utilized in conjunction with one another, will yield success.
Every so often however, a player comes along that transcends the expectations of a position. Versatility on the gridiron is often coveted above all else and when it comes to a variety of experience, Virginia senior fullback Rashawn Jackson has been there, and done that.
As a youngster in Jersey City, N.J., Jackson began to develop the trademark ‘can-do’ attitude that would eventually define his approach to the game.
“In the summertime, I would always go and stay at my grandpa’s house,” Jackson recalled. “My family was very close, and all the men would spend time at my grandfather’s garage. The older men worked on cars, but the kids would always just play sports. Since the kids were too small to help out in there, we turned to sports as our way of passing the time. We had a crate nailed up where we would play basketball, and in the yard some of my uncles would pitch to us while we practiced hitting. We would play football back there too-until it was too dark to see the ball. Our field was pretty small, but we didn’t care, all we wanted to do was play.”
Rashawn’s grandfather, Edward Jackson, embraced the idea of being well versed, and tried to pass that mentality on to Rashawn.
“My grandfather really instilled in me a lot of values I carry to the field today,” Jackson said. “He worked construction, did electrical work, fixed cars and is also a very good cook. He taught me how valuable a variety of exposure can be.”
Throughout his career as a member of the Virginia football team, Jackson has never shied away from an assignment, and furthermore has embraced every role he’s been given. After completing an incredibly successful career for coach Rich Hansen at St. Peter’s Preparatory School in New Jersey during which he was named team offensive MVP and earned Player of the Year honors as well as Jersey Journal all-county linebacker as a junior, Jackson began fielding offers from various big name programs around the country.
“Michigan, Wisconsin, Penn State, USC, Cal, Nebraska and Texas are all incredible programs that I considered, but in the end, it was the combination of a great education in addition to the ability to compete for championships that brought me to Virginia.”
By the middle of his freshman season at Virginia in 2005, Jackson didn’t find himself in the backfield, but because of the presence of a number of elder tailbacks, Jackson instead switched positions to linebacker to try and get on the field as soon as possible. His unique combination of bruising size, deft agility and quick feet allowed him to play the game at a variety of positions. One thing was certain-the position change was nothing close to a new experience for him.
“When I heard I was being moved to linebacker, I wasn’t fazed at all,” Jackson said. “I just wanted to do whatever the team needed from me to be successful. In high school I got moved around all the time. I played running back, safety in the nickel package, nose guard in the dime package, center, quarterback and even punted. If I could be productive and it would help the team, then that’s what I wanted to do.”
Throughout the 2006 season, Jackson remained an inside linebacker, seeing action in all 12 games. Contributing mostly on special teams, he simply kept working hard and biding his time. It wasn’t until the spring of 2007 that he made the transition back to the backfield-this time in a fullback role that demands versatility.
“It’s hard to define the role of a fullback,” Jackson said. “You have to be the guy, that when all else fails, call on me and I’ll get it done. If it’s a run for the tailback, then I’ll run block. If it’s a pass call, then I’ll pass block. If they want to put the ball in my hands, then I can take a carry inside the tackles, or I can catch a ball in the flat. More than anything else, I want to be the guy who brings positive energy to the offense.”
It is that characteristic emotional flare that is what Virginia fans will remember about Rashawn Jackson. Always the first man to congratulate a teammate on a big play, Jackson understands the value of playing with your heart on your sleeve.
“There is really only one constant in my game – that I play this game with emotion,” Jackson said. “No matter where I am on the field, or what I am doing, I will put my heart and soul into it.”
Perhaps his reflections on his one career touchdown at Virginia, in a game at Pittsburgh in 2007, are the most telling of the kind of player Jackson is and the role he relishes on the team – a team player who just wants the team to succeed.
“I will remember that play forever,” Jackson said of his touchdown. “I remember games in high school where I scored five touchdowns in a game, and now I have one touchdown in five years. That’s not what’s important though. If it’s our receivers or quarterback scoring, then so be it-I’m a fullback, so I’ll do whatever it takes to help our team.”