If the doctors' forecast had been correct, this wouldn't have been much of an indoor lacrosse season for the Thunder's Jeff Jackson. A half a season, maybe, and not a very prosperous one at that.
But Jackson has bounced back from shoulder surgery with vigor. As the Thunder prepares for its regular-season finale against the Philadelphia Wings here Saturday, Jackson is the fourth-leading goal scorer in the Major Indoor Lacrosse League behind Gary and Paul Gait and Pete Parke, all of the Detroit Turbos.
Fittingly, all four will be on the floor when the Thunder and Turbos play for the MILL championship April 6, probably at the Baltimore Arena.
It was a year ago that Jackson, a Loyola High and Hampden-Sydney grad, hurt his right shoulder playing for the Chesapeake Lacrosse Club. He was able to make the U.S. team that went to the World Games last summer in Australia -- he was the only Division III player on the squad -- but doctors convinced him his shoulder would never be completely sound without surgery.
On Sept. 20 the shoulder joint was reconstructed and two 4-inch pins were inserted. It would be three months before he had full motion, the doctors said, and he could plan on missing at least the first three or four Thunder games.
Jackson began practicing in mid-December, two weeks before the Thunder's Dec. 29 opener.
He has scored 22 goals to lead the Thunder to a 6-3 record and has twice been voted game MVP. The first time was Jan. 19 when he received congratulations from a most unexpected source.
"A couple weeks before," said goalie Jeff Gombar, Jackson's roommate, "a cop pulled us over because he said we ran a stop sign. When Jeff came off the floor after his MVP game, the same cop was at floor level and said, 'Congratulations on a good game.' Jeff did a double take and then said, 'Thanks for letting me off that night.' "
Jackson's second MVP performance was last Saturday in the 17-14 win over Philadelphia that clinched the Thunder's spot in the championship game. He had five goals on nine shots (eight of them on goal) and three assists.
With 22 goals, Jackson trails only Paul Gait (a league-record 41), Gary Gait (28) and Parke (23).
"Jeff is one of the premier players in the league," said Thunder coach John Stewart. "In my opinion, he's an obvious all-pro choice."
Stewart was particularly impressed by Jackson's goal after the Wings closed to within 13-11 with two goals in five seconds late in the third quarter.
"The Spectrum crowd was rocking," Stewart said. "Then Jeff won the faceoff, raced in with a Wing on his left shoulder and scored eight seconds later. That quieted the crowd. It was a huge play."
Now in his third year in the MILL, Jackson came to the Thunder out of Division III Hampden- Sydney. At Loyola High, he had felt "like the third wheel" on a midfield with Kevin Haus and Pat Welsh, but in college it was a different matter.
"My first day of practice as a freshman we played box lacrosse in the gym and I had 11 goals," Jackson said. "I thought, 'This is going to be a long season if I'm all we've got.' "
Branded with a 2-8 record the year before, Hampden-Sydney improved to 6-6 in Jackson's freshman year. He became a two-time Old Dominion Athletic Conference Player of the Year and was acclaimed a first-team Division III All-America as a senior in 1988.
Last summer, as a member of the championship U.S. team in the World Games, Jackson wound up in the White House and met President Bush.
"If we beat Detroit for the MILL championship," Jackson said, "maybe I'll get to go to the White House for the second time in a year."