Nate Jackson is ready to lead the Elks into a bright future
After going 2-8 in 2023, the sophomore running back gives Burleson something to look forward to
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The Burleson Elks varsity football team went 2-8 (2-5 against district opponents), was outscored 380-166 by its opponents and finished in sixth place in 5A-2 Region II District 5 in head coach Chad Worrell’s first season at the helm in 2023.
A bright spot for Burleson was sophomore running back Nate Jackson, who led Burleson with 985 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2023.
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Jackson’s 985 rushing yards were the third most in the district. He was the only sophomore and one of four non-seniors to finish in the top 10.
Jackson is still processing what it means to have been so successful as a sophomore in his first season on varsity, he said. “Everyone around me is saying it’s a huge accomplishment,” he said.
Jackson didn’t expect to have this kind of season before it started, he said. After being on the freshman B-Team in 2022, Jackson was expected to be a role player on varsity or even be on junior varsity in 2023, Coach Worrell said.
Jackson “seized the opportunity to take on that number one running back role,” when senior running back Jabari Smith was injured at the beginning of the season, Worrell said.
To get from freshman B-Team, which Jackon said he didn’t like, to starting on varsity, Jackson “spent the whole offseason in the lab” working with personal running back coach Brandon Williams to improve his game.
Williams isn’t surprised Jackson was “playing as a big man with a big heart” in 2023 because he’s seen the work he’s put in. Watching Jackson develop has been a thing of beauty, Williams said.
Williams’s work with Jackson mainly consists of teaching Jackson to read defenses and “be another quarterback on the field,” along with “situational training,” which is more practical in games, Williams said.
To reach the level he’s reached, Jackson had to actually want to work hard rather than just do it because he’s told to, Williams said. “Not everyone has the grit [Jackson] has,” Williams added.
Jackson’s work ethic hasn’t gone unnoticed by Coach Worrell either. Jackson has the common denominator Worrell’s seen from a lot of good running backs he’s coached throughout his career, which is a willingness to learn, Worrell said.
“[Jackson] works really really hard,” Coach Worrell said. “He soaks up everything and asks a lot of questions.”
What’s fueled Jackson’s work ethic is his love for the game. Football is as important to Jackson as breathing, he said.
One of the things Jackson loves most about football is making defenders who think they can tackle him “look dumb,” he said.
Jackson developed his love for football when he watched his favorite player Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks play the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLIX in 2015. Lynch is his favorite because he “runs just like him,” Jackson said.
Having Jackson show that he can step up and make plays as a sophomore is great because he has another two years to grow and mature in the offense, Worrell said.
“We rely on our running backs to do a lot, and he’s shown that he’s been able to do that,” Worrell said.
Jackson believes his performance in Burleson’s game against the Frisco Lone Star Rangers September 1 was what made the coaches trust him as the number-one running back. Although Lone Star beat Burleson 42-7, Jackson led the team with 99 rushing yards and scored its only touchdown.
“It was kind of his first big game to do that, and he got in there and got a groove,” Worrell said after that game.
Jackson’s developed a good relationship with Worrell and knows when he yells at him, it’s to coach him up, Jackson said. “If he didn’t care about me, he’d just put me to the bench and say ‘Next person up,’” Jackson added.
Jackson is grateful for his coaches believing in him and giving him opportunities, he said. It’s very special for his coaches to believe he can make plays, he added.
“It builds a bond when [my coaches] believe I can do something,” Jackson said.
Jackson’s favorite memory of the season was his three-touchdown performance against the Joshua Owls October 20. He said it felt good hearing the crowd cheer for number 24 and going to school after that knowing everyone knew how good he was.
“After that game, I was like ‘Oh my God, like I’ve never [scored three touchdowns in a game] before,’” Jackson said.
Jackson’s not sure how to feel now that the season’s over, but he “can’t stay in his feelings for too long” because he’s got to get back in the lab to reach his full potential, Jackson said.
Jackson has the potential to play in college, Coach Williams said. Coach Worrell said Jackson has the intangibles of some of the other good running backs he’s coached.
Jackson’s ultimate dream is to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame and “get that gold jacket,” Jackson said.
Before getting that gold jacket, Jackson wants to play for a power five-conference college team, with his dream school being LSU, Jackson said.
Next year, Jackson hopes to receive a scholarship offer from a Division-I school. Other goals of Jackson’s include rushing for 1,200 yards and scoring 15 to 20 touchdowns, he said.
Jackson knows he’s going to face challenges as he attempts to continue to perform at a high level as a junior and senior, he said. Among those challenges will be dealing with defenses paying more attention to him now that he’s not an unknown, Worrell said.
Jackson plans to continue training, focusing in class, staying humble and listening to advice to get better, Jackson said.
Even more important than his individual success is his team’s success, Jackson said. Becoming a leader and making his teammates better is a priority for him heading into his junior and senior seasons, he said.
“If I’m eating, I want to make sure everybody around me is eating,” Jackson said.
Jackson believes Burleson can win the state championship by the end of his senior season because of all the young talent the team has.
While Burleson winning a state championship within two years after finishing 2-8 may seem like a long shot, if football really is as important to Jackson as breathing, I won’t count them out.
One thing is clear to me – the Burleson Elks have a bright future ahead of them, and Nate Jackson is one of the biggest reasons why.