Before he played a down of high school football, McKinnley Jackson was considered a can’t-miss prospect by any college coach who watched him work his way through agility drills.
It was during an Ocean Springs summer camp prior to his freshman year when former Louisiana-Lafayette head coach Mark Hudspeth instantly recognized his potential and offered him a scholarship on the spot. At the time, the George County star was a 6-foot-1, 272-pound 14-year-old.
He is now a 6-2, 308-pound junior with an impressive list of offers. Alabama, Florida State, LSU and every other football power in the Southeast has a scholarship waiting on Jackson.
Ever since Hudspeth singled him out at the camp on June 1, 2016, Jackson hasn’t disappointed one bit. He was a dominant force as a freshman and topped that performance with an even better sophomore season — 81 total tackles, 36 tackles for negative yardage and two defensive touchdowns.
High school coaches have yet to decide the best way to slow the nose tackle down.
“Everybody starts with two (blockers) on him and it ends up being three,” George County coach Matt Caldwell said. “I guess they’re just taking a chance that the linebackers won’t make a play.
“This my 23rd season (as a coach) and I’ve never seen anybody like him.”
Jackson’s recruitment appeared set to come to an early end when he announced on Nov. 27, 2017, that he was verbally committing to LSU and head coach Ed Orgeron.
In February, Jackson admitted that he made too early of a decision and reopened his recruitment.
“I think he got over there to LSU on a Saturday, went to a game and it was a big atmosphere,” Caldwell said. “Orgeron is good, now. I think he just got in the moment. He sat back and looked, ‘I don’t know if I want to commit to LSU or not.’”
It was a difficult moment for Jackson when he decided to pull back his pledge to LSU.
“He didn’t know how to get out of it,” Caldwell said. “That was hard on him because he didn’t want to make everybody mad.
“He’s a good, good kid. A lot of times we all forget he’s just 16 years old, only a junior in high school. That’s a lot of stress on a 16-year-old. He needs to worry about girlfriends and school and football. The other stuff, he doesn’t need to worry about at all.”
Five months after dropping his LSU pledge, Jackson was at ease Tuesday as he talked about his recruitment.
“It was kind of hard on me to commit early,” he said. “I really didn’t understand the recruiting process. Now, I’ve got it.”
After all the top Southern schools lined up to offer Jackson, he’s now seeing more interest from well beyond the Mason-Dixon Line. Stanford and Notre Dame have both shown interest this summer and requested his transcripts.
South Bend, Indiana, is a long way from Lucedale, Mississippi, but Jackson is open to hear what the Fighting Irish and Cardinal have to say.
“I’m open to any schools,” he said. “Whatever makes me a man and a better player.”
Instead of making the rounds at summer camps along with every other talented high school junior, Jackson has spent his summer in Lucedale working out with teammates and trying to get in better shape for the 2018 campaign. Jackson, who found a job washing cars at a local dealership, has focused on getting his weight down.
After ending spring practice at 328 pounds, he has dropped a total of 20 pounds.
“I’ve been perfecting my craft and bettering myself for my team,” Jackson said. “If you look good and feel good, you play good.”
Jackson is an imposing figure in the middle of the George County offensive line and has been the biggest, strongest kid on the field ever since he started playing organized football.
George County senior defensive back/receiver Dylan Lawrence was one of his Pee Wee teammates.
“Everybody would be like 100 pounds and he’d be like 250,” he said.
On top of being bigger than any other player on the field, he moves exceptionally well. When he checked in at 285-290 pounds during his sophomore season, he ran the 40-yard dash in 4.9 seconds. At 328 pounds during the spring, he ran it in 5.0seconds.
Those are times that would draw the interest of any NFL scout and Jackson still has two years of high school football left.
In Jackson, Caldwell sees a player who will be a disruptive force on any level.
“I think he’s that Warren Sapp, Gerald McCoy, John Randle type,” Caldwell said. “He’s active inside. He’s that type of player.”
While Sapp and Randle have brash personalities, Jackson is a much more laid back character away from the football field who tries to say the right things.
“I just want to be a great player and great leader on the team,” he said. “I’m working on being a great person in the community.”