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Flames Feature: Jackson Creates Excitement
Explosive, electrifying and exciting – these are just some of the words which have been used to describe Liberty Flames wide receiver and return specialist Wynton Jackson.
Over the past three seasons, Jackson has proven to be a scoring threat every time he touches the ball. Whether it is breaking a kickoff return for a touchdown or turning a small gain into a big play, an opposing defense must take into account the 6-2, 188-pound senior from Jacksonville, Fla.
"Wynton is a talented and gifted athlete," states Liberty Head Football Coach Danny Rocco. "He's got size and explosiveness. He's the kind of guy who can break a game open with a little three-to-four yard route, catch the ball, make a guy miss and then go the distance for a touchdown."
Jackson has eclipsed the 500-yard mark in receiving the last two seasons and enters this campaign coming off his best year in 2006, with 40 receptions for 519 yards. Besides his 13.0 yards per catch average last season, the wideout's two receiving touchdowns showed his big-play capability, as both were for 40 yards or more.
During the Flames' season opener against Tusculum, Jackson reached the century mark in career pass receptions. The senior hauled in three passes from quarterback Brock Smith in the game to reach 100 catches for his career.
Along with fellow senior receiver Brandon Turner, who also eclipsed the 100-catch mark for his career against the Pioneers, the duo has combined for more than 2,600 receiving yards during their Liberty careers, along with 11 touchdowns, and provides leadership to one of the deepest units on the Liberty roster.
"As a unit, we want to do the best we can," says Jackson about the experienced group. "We want to eliminate all the mental mistakes this season. We want to start off and go out with the best year we have ever had. We are a mature group this year and all of us have seen playing time.
"It's not all about individual numbers for us. We want to excel as a group and help the team win. If one person goes down, the next person must step up. Each one of us needs to watch each other's back."
It is this attitude which Jackson says is prevalent among all his Flames teammates, as they pursue a Big South championship.
"We are all working toward the same goal and realize if one group lets down, we need to pick them up, and the same with them for us.
"Each player needs to take responsibility for himself," continued the redshirt senior. "We need to worry about what we are doing and not what someone else is doing."
And while Jackson has been successful as receiver, his biggest impact may be as a return specialist. Already he has proven to be a threat to be reckoned with as a return man in Liberty's two games of 2007.
The senior fielded a punt along the right sideline against Tusculum on Sept. 1, picked up several key blocks and eluded several Pioneers on his way to a 65-yard touchdown.
The following week against Shippensburg, Jackson bettered the mark by returning a punt 88 yards for a score. The return was the second longest in program history and set a new standard in the Big South Confernece.
"I really enjoy being a part of special teams. Once the ball's in the air, everyone is going off of instinct. You never know what is going to happen.
"When the returner catches the ball, we are relying on the other 10 guys in front of us. We depend on them the whole time, and when we break one, it's great to look back and see the guy who just blocked for you running behind you.
"It's an exciting feeling when you reach the end zone and meet up with those guys who just blocked for you. You want to do it again."
Last season, Jackson posted the second-highest punt return yardage total in Liberty history with 298 yards. His 11.5 yards per return average ranked him second in the Big South Conference. In addition, he led the conference with 323 kickoff return yards and a 29.4 average per return. His 80-yard kickoff return against undefeated and nationally-ranked Charleston Southern helped swing momentum and propel the Flames to a 34-20 victory, the first Liberty win over a nationally-ranked team since 1997.
For his outstanding season, the dangerous return man was named to the Football Gazette Central All-Region second team. Jackson also was a first-team Big South all-conference return specialist and VaSID first-team all-state member. The league is once again preparing for another big year from the senior, as Jackson was a 2007 Big South preseason all-conference return specialist selection.
A highly decorated player in high school, the sport management major admits he didn't even know about Liberty until he played in the Jacksonville Shrine All-Star game after his senior year of high school.
"During the Shrine Bowl, the coach of my all-star team told me he could put me in contact with some coaches, including Liberty's coach. I had no idea who Liberty was.
"Well, I got a call from Coach [Pete] Sundheim, and that was the first time I heard about the school and understood what its program was about."
Not only did he find out about Liberty and come to the school here, but he admits being a member of the program has definitely impacted his life.
"Liberty has made me grow up a little bit faster. They keep you focused and headstrong on the important aspects of life," noted Jackson. "It keeps me humble. I have learned to always make sure I am doing the right thing, and not out there getting into things, I hear people doing back home."
And just as he has seen himself change, the wide receiver has noticed a change in the atmosphere surrounding the Liberty football.
"When I first came, we played to packed houses, but it dwindled down to where it was our parents and friends who came out to games," recalls Jackson. "But as the new Football Operations Center went up, new turf was put in, support from the Flames Club increased and all the other new things which are going on, it is definitely a sight to see.
"I can't wait to come back in 10 years and see what they have done. Dr. Falwell used to always say someday he wanted to play Notre Dame, and I would like to come back someday and see Liberty play Notre Dame."
While playing Notre Dame may be in the distant future, Jackson and his teammates have been concentrating on making memories and leaving their mark on Liberty football. Last season's turnaround, the nation's best, not only has helped create increased excitement around the team, but brought the Flames national recognition during the preseason. Several national polls, including Lindy's Top 25, have the Flames among its members.
Jackson says last season's turnaround will always be one of his best memories of football at Liberty, and that he and his teammates are using last season's campaign as motivation in 2007.
"It was really exciting last year. Coming into camp last season, it was like we had a new team. The new coaches didn't know who they had as players, and we didn't know what to expect from them. The whole season was a learning experience for everyone.
"Once the season started, we realized we had a pretty good team. We started off pretty well, then hit a little slump, and finished strong. As a team, we would like to be more consistent this season."
And just as his explosiveness provides excitement, Jackson and his Liberty teammates hope to provide excitement and burst to the top of the Big South standings this season.
"We want to be the first Liberty team to hold the Big South trophy up," explains Jackson. "We want people to know that we were the group who won it all.
"Our team wants to prove to everybody that we can do it and chose to do it. It is all we ever talk about.
"We will go out there every Saturday and work toward one goal – a Big South championship."
Written by Ryan Bomberger
Liberty Associate Athletics Media Relations Director