Be it on the football field for Glenbard North or in the classroom where he carries a 5.0 grade-point average, senior running back/defensive back Justin Jackson thrives on challenge, which includes to playing ping-pong with friends.
"If I lose, I swear I'll keep playing all night until I win," said Jackson, a Northwestern recruit. "I really battle with myself with laziness. I want to be at the top when it comes to grades or football or anything like that."
Jackson said he was born with that trait, but it certainly has been cultivated while playing for the Panthers. Last season Jackson ran for 2,602 yards and 35 touchdowns in leading them to the Class 8A title game, where they fell 28-14 to Mount Carmel.
He's also the Panthers' top defensive back, a position he first played as a sophomore when he joined the varsity and was teammates with his brother Phil, now a redshirt freshman running back at Division II Northwest Missouri State.
Panthers coach Ryan Wilkens knows the risks in keeping Jackson on the field so much.
"It's always in the back of our minds about how much we want Justin out there," Wilkens said. "But we will put our best kids on the field. For us to be successful he needs to play 20 to 30 plays on defense and run the ball 30 times."
It's not like Jackson is asking for rest. He even did a little punting last season.
With only two returning defensive starters besides Jackson, the Panthers need the newcomers in the secondary to learn quickly.
"It definitely takes a toll, but first and foremost (the key) is taking care of your body, staying off your feet on Saturday and Sunday, drinking a lot of fluids," Jackson said. "Also, it's knowing how to take hits. I didn't take a bunch of huge hits last year, even though I had over (400) carries."
Ranked a four-star prospect by Rivals.com, Jackson had a long list of schools knocking at his door before he chose Northwestern in May.
On many mornings he was up around 5:30 to sneak in a workout in before lifting weights with teammates at 8 a.m.
He does it with one goal in mind — to get better.
"He has high expectations for himself," Wilkens said. "He competes; every drill, he competes. He refuses to fail. Bottom line, he wants to win."
Glenbard North at a glance
Last season: 12-2, 7-0, 1st place DuPage Valley conference; lost 28-14 to Mount Carmel in Class 8A state final.
Playoff history: 17 appearances, 0 state titles.
He's back: Justin Jackson, Sr., 6-0, 185, RB/CB (2,62 yards rushing, 35 TDs); Chris Edwards, Sr., 6-0, 285, RT; Eric Graham, Sr., 6-1, 255, LG; Sam Kriese, Sr., 5-10, 175, DB; Connor Dombrowski, Sr., 6-0, 215, DE.
He's gone: Brian Murphy, QB (Michigan, wrestling); Ryan Storto, WR/CB; D'Angelo Hodges, LG; Mario Rodriguez, LB; Alex Smith, LB.
He's new: Brett Gasiorowski, Jr., 6-4, 210, QB; Joe Fierro, Sr., 5-11, 205, LB; Cyris Parker, Sr., 6-1, 210, DE.
Big name: Jackson committed to Northwestern.
Big game: Oct. 25 at Wheaton North. The DVC title likely will come down to this Week 9 matchup. Future Northwestern teammates Jackson and North quarterback Clayton Thorson will have much to say about which one will earn bragging rights.
Big question: Glenbard North returns only three starters on defense, and five on offense. Will the new guys be able to jell in time to keep the Panthers' among the state's elite teams?
Breakdown: Having Jackson in the backfield automatically makes the Panthers a team to fear. It doesn't need to happen often, but Gasiorowski will have to make things happen through the air to keep opponents from ganging up on Jackson.
Fast fact: Glenbard has reached at least the 8A semifinals in four of the last six seasons, including two appearances in the title game.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun