In the 16 years Hammond football coach Joe Russo has preached defense to his teams, perhaps no player has had better instincts or grasped the seek-and-destroy mentality of the linebacker position better than senior Jimmy Jackson.
"He's outstanding," Russo said. "He's our leading tackler. He's our leader on the field. He's our leader off the field. He does everything we ask of him."
Jackson, who is being recruited by smaller Division I-A programs such as East Carolina, spearheads a veteran defense that has given up 56 points through five games, allowing just 4.5 per game in the past four.
The 5-foot-11, 215-pound linebacker and team co-captain recorded 202 tackles in his first two varsity seasons and recently passed Matt Zielinski (1988-89) for the school's career record (246).
He leads the county and Hammond hit parade this fall with 67 tackles, two sacks and two fumble recoveries. Jackson's 18 career sacks are also a school record.
"I just love making the hit," said Jackson. "When you make a hit that excites your teammates and allows them to emotionally feed off of it. There is no better feeling on the field."
The All-County performer and team defensive MVP of a year ago, when 95 of Jackson's 153 tackles were solo with 24 coming behind the line of scrimmage, has plenty of help from Hammond's front four.
Golden Bears junior lineman Jimmy Weston (54 tackles, two fumble recoveries, five sacks) and senior nose guard Justin Lavis (44 tackles, two fumble recoveries, six sacks) rank right behind Jackson on the county's defensive rating charts.
Heading into tomorrow's critical showdown with county-leading Wilde Lake (3-2, 2-0), the Hammond coaching staff is concerned that Jackson and the stellar defense may need to play more of a dual role if the Golden Bears are to keep any playoff or county title hopes.
"It'll be a real test because Wilde Lake has a lot of team speed on offense," Jackson said. "If we can get a shutout, it could turn our whole season around. It could get us going in a positive direction."
Despite Hammond's recent defensive stinginess since a season-opening 38-0 loss to Southern of Anne Arundel County, the Golden Bears' 3-2 record (1-1 in county) underscores Hammond's Achilles' heel. The offense is averaging just under a touchdown per game, placing great pressure on Hammond's defense this week considering Wilde Lake is averaging 21 points.
"It's frustrating because after a great defensive series our offense goes 1-2-3 and out and the defense is back on the field," Jackson said. "We're at the point where our defense should help our offense out more by scoring some points or creating easier scoring opportunities."
Russo, who said his strategy is to stress that defense wins games, agreed with Jackson's contention that the Golden Bears' defense might need to put six points of its own on the scoreboard to boost Hammond's chances of beating Wilde Lake.
Jackson, who also starts at offensive guard and on special teams, scored one touchdown this season when Russo inserted him into the offensive backfield in a goal-line situation at Atholton two weeks ago.
"You can simulate Jimmy Jackson in a practice, but seeing him in a real situation is a different thing," Howard coach John Quinn said after the Lions' 8-7 triumph of Hammond. "He's just a man playing among boys out there. That's the bottom line. There are just certain kids who are a cut above the rest and on defense he is one of them."
Jackson, who also wrestles and plays lacrosse at Hammond, is hoping to parlay his linebacker skills into a college scholarship. He vehemently disagrees that the prototype Division I-A college linebacker must be 6 feet 2 with 4.5-second speed in the 40-yard --.
"You have to have a lot of heart and determination to play this position," Jackson said. "Not everybody can get to be 6 feet 2 and have lightning speed. But I believe I can play linebacker with as much heart as anybody else out there."