By Donald Heath
Special for the Effingham Herald
GUYTON – Five years ago, high school sophomore Taylor Jackson couldn’t sleep as he contemplated his first start at quarterback for South Effingham.
“I remember my mom coming into my bedroom and saying, 'Why are you still awake, it’s midnight?' " Jackson said. “I found out I was starting on Thursday night (for a Friday game against Richmond Hill) and I didn’t know what would happen. I didn’t know if I was ready.”
Jackson, now a college sophomore at Reinhardt University, again has uncertainty swirling over his head. He transferred to Reinhardt from Division III Brevard College in January, competed in spring ball, but suffered a torn ACL in his left knee.
For the second time in his collegiate career, he underwent surgery to repair his left knee.
But unlike his sleepless night in Guyton, Jackson approaches his newest challenge with confidence.
He knows the routine. At Brevard, he suffered the same injury and missed the 2020 season, which became a five-game slate moved to the 2021 spring because of COVID.
“I got to a low place,” Jackson said. “When you’ve been playing as long as I have, sports almost becomes your identity and when you’re not playing, you’re lost.”
Jackson worked hard. He was cleared to play after the first two weeks of the fall (2021) season and, in Brevard’s fifth game, finally got a chance to make his first start.
In front of his family and a Tornado homecoming crowd, Jackson threw for 204 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-0 victory over Maryville College.
Jackson was named the USA South Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
“I think for some people it was eye-opening,” Jackson said.
Maybe not as eye-opening as his first prep start against undefeated Richmond Hill.
Jackson scrambled for 32 yards on the Mustangs’ third play from scrimmage and led his winless team to a touchdown on its first drive.
Jackson threw for 168 yards and a touchdown and ran for another 133 yards and a score. SEHS matched scores with the Wildcats throughout the night and led with 4:24 to go before Richmond Hill used a punt return for a touchdown and another late score to pull away.
Jackson remained a bright spot on a struggling team. But Jackson, a senior in 2019, and the Mustangs reversed the narrative with a 6-1 start and top-10 ranking under coach Nathan Clark.
Jackson, a perfect fit for Clark’s spread offensive attack, set school single-season records with 1,981 passing yards and 23 touchdowns and SEHS advanced to the playoffs after winning just four games in the previous three seasons combined.
“We had a lot of seniors on that team and I think we were just tired of losing,” Jackson said. “We were ready to do whatever it took.”
College recruiters, however, remained skeptical about Jackson – maybe not projecting he would grow a few more inches and add a few more pounds to reach 6-foot-1, 190 pounds.
Brevard took a chance, but Jackson said Reinhardt was a better fit.
“I felt like I was better than where I was, maybe I could have played Division II, maybe lower Division I, but Brevard was giving me a chance and it was only five hours away from home,” said Jackson, whose brother Tyler Hagan played tight end at Savannah State University.
Jackson said he’ll continue to pursue his degree in sociology with a focus in criminal justice at Reinhardt.
He expects to be redshirted this season but will take advantage of learning the offense in quarterback meetings while rehabbing his knee for about seven months.
“You worry about the knee, especially your mobility and not being hesitant once you come back,” Jackson said. “(Running) was a big part of my game.”