Jim Jackson helped the University of San Diego achieve the impossible the last three years. Now the former SIU assistant coach is trying to rebuild a UMass offensive line that has two new starters.
San Diego, which competes in the non-scholarship Pioneer Football League, made the playoffs in four of his five years there. The former tight ends/fullbacks coach under Dale Lennon here, Jackson took over the Toreros' offensive line in 2014. San Diego's front five allowed 23 sacks in 11 games in his first year, and 36, total over the next four. They have won the PFL title in seven of the last eight years, and reached the FCS playoffs three straight years.
Jackson had been a full-time assistant coach before he went to San Diego, helping Lennon for four years and also working at Minnesota, Louisiana-Lafayette, Toledo and Lehigh, but had never led an O-line.
"I had a lot of confidence that I could do it, but I had never done it before. Just like players, we talk about confidence, just like anything, you may think you can do it, but you don't know until you do it yourself," he said. "I relate it to my daughter in tying her shoe. She could have done it sooner, but she didn't have the confidence."
Six Toreros were named first team all-conference during Jackson's tenure, including Jake Michaels on the offensive line and quarterback Anthony Lawrence. O-lineman Aidan Valencia made the second team.
Jackson's group left Saturday's game against SIU disappointed, obviously, after the Salukis broke open a four-point game with 28 straight points. UMass (0-2) had two rushing touchdowns, a 4 yard run by quarterback Randall West and a 2 yard run by Kevin Brown, but finished SIU's 45-20 win with 123 yards rushing on 47 carries.
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"When we execute and pay attention to detail, and play really hard, the kids do a great job, and we can play with Big 10 teams," Jackson said, noting UMass led Rutgers 21-7 before falling 48-21. "We can play with a lot of teams in the country. And then you saw in the second half, when we don't execute, we don't pay attention to detail, and we have missed assignments, we don't give the offense a chance to succeed on the offensive line. And that starts with me in having the guys prepared."
Jackson coached one of SIU's greatest players, tight end MyCole Pruitt, a former wide receiver at Kirkwood (Missouri) High School. Pruitt redshirted in 2010 but went on to catch a school-record 221 passes from 2011-14 for 2,601 yards and 25 touchdowns. Only SIU Hall of Famer Cornell Craig, the only 1,000 yard receiver in school history (and he did it twice), has more career yards and career touchdowns.
"MyCole was rough around the edges when we first got him," Jackson said. "He was extremely intelligent and extremely athletic, had never really played tight end before, and kind of had a little bit of a chip on his shoulder. As we developed our relationship, we got to know each other really well. I took him out to dinner and we would hang out all the time."
Jackson called SIU's win at Northern Iowa in 2013 as one of his favorite memories here. The Salukis missed a 29 yard field goal on the final play to force overtime at the UNI-Dome and won the game on an option pitch to running back Malcolm Agnew. SIU had never run the option before, and had just put in the play for that game.
Pruitt caught four passes for 63 yards, receiver John Lantz caught four passes for 65 yards, and wideout LaSteven McKinney had four catches for 62 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Kory Faulkner completed 21 of 35 passes for 252 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Agnew had 113 yards on 25 carries, and linebacker Bryan Presume stopped UNI's David Johnson on a fourth-and-1 at the SIU 16 on the final play to seal the victory.
"The Northern Iowa game, in 2013, we went up there and beat 'em. Faulkner threw for two touchdowns, and (Malcolm) Agnew scored on a speed-option in overtime, or something like that, and MyCole had a great game," Jackson said. "Just hugging him off the field, that was cool, and a cool experience."
UMass is next at Charlotte (1-1) on Saturday. SIU (1-1) hosts UT Martin (1-1) Saturday night at 6 p.m. at Saluki Stadium.
TODD HEFFERMAN covers SIU athletics for The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 618-351-5087 or on Twitter at @THefferman.