As much as a group of unheralded players has brought Havre de Grace's football team back from the depths, it has been the emergence of quarterback Billy Jackson that has returned the Warriors to respectability.
It began last season, when Jackson helped revitalize the offense, finishing tops in Harford County in passing with 1,199 yards and 11 touchdowns. More important, the Warriors got off to their best start in years, 6-1, but Jackson seemingly was overshadowed by a running game that featured Mike Wood, who transferred to Bel Air. Without Wood, Jackson has stepped to the forefront in his senior season and saved his best for last.
"This year the plan has been for me to throw more because my sophomore and junior years we had a lot more running backs than we do this year," said Jackson.
The Warriors might not have had a win thus far if not for Jackson. After Havre de Grace stumbled to an 0-3 start, it has rode the arm of Jackson to four straight wins, including a 36-15 upset of No. 4 C. Milton Wright Friday. He has totaled 756 yards and 14 touchdowns over those four wins.
"Beating C. Milton Wright was the biggest win for me as a quarterback in high school," said Jackson. "They had beaten us the last five or six years and I think they overlooked us. I was very proud of our defense, they shut down the pass and held the best offensive team in the county scoreless in the second half."
Jackson leads the county in completions (64), yards (1,132), touchdowns (19) and passing percentage (53 percent), while the Warriors' offense ranks best in the league, averaging 340 yards.
"We don't try to fool anyone, we're going to throw the ball," said Havre de Grace coach Tom Marron. "Billy's got good quickness and good vision of the field."
Said John Brooks, the Warriors quarterback coach, "There's not too many kids that throw as well as he can in high school and not too many kids that can defend the pass. We're letting his talent dictate the game."
Jackson has been a welcome constant to a program that has seen one winning season since 1988 and been marked by a shortage in numbers and talent. He always has possessed the ability to play quarterback and his commitment and leadership come from a strong work ethic.
His quickness keeps defenses guessing and although Jackson can throw deep, the Warriors use more short slants. And with a handful of receivers (J. R. Clark, Jameel Daily, Tim Wilson and Damon Presberry) to go to, Jackson always has an option on each play.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to my receivers and the offensive line because without them I would have nowhere near the kind of season I'm having," Jackson said.
Said Brooks: "It makes the kids run better routes because he is not zeroing in on one guy."
Now in his third year as a starter, Jackson's growth is evident.
Both Marron and Brooks said Jackson is more settled at his position and he is making better decisions and reading defenses well.
"It was just a matter of putting his mind into the game," said Brooks. "When I first saw him, he had bad footwork, he didn't know how to properly get set and step up and throw. He's been working on that and his numbers show he's really improved."
Jackson readily admits that there was room for improvement.
"My sophomore year I was just playing on athletic ability," he said. "A quarterback is supposed to lead the offense and you have to deal with the pressure."