By LARRY VAUGHT
It’s hard for Drake Jackson to say if playing center for the University of Kentucky football team is more difficult than he thought it might be.
“I really didn’t know what to expect, so I don’t know what to say about that. It’s been a lot more fun than I thought it would be, though,” said Jackson. “I enjoy coming in here every day. I enjoy coming into football and working. Whether it is a hard or easy day, it’s fun. For the past two years, it has been nothing but fun. I am glad I chose to come here and it has been a heck of a ride so far.”
Jackson, the former Woodford County star, redshirted in 2016 when UK went 2016. He became the starting center early last season when Kentucky again went 7-6. He goes into this year as the starting center and quarterback of the offensive line.
“My job is to handle the cadence, the snap count. I have to do a good job picking up it and keeping the defense guessing when I will snap the ball,” Jackson said. “Just change it up so it is not the same pace. I realize I have to change it up more, but that is an easy fix — or should be.”
Jackson expected to be redshirted his first year because the Cats had Jon Toth. He admits going into last season was a “little difficult” when he didn’t win the starting job but he used that as motivation.
“The good thing I had was that I had good people around me at home, on the team. They kept my head up and told me my time would come,” Jackson said. “I was like, ‘How is it going to come? I have two guys in front of me.’ Then it did come and I took advantage of it. I don’t look back. I just see what I can do better and just keep moving forward. My chance kind of came at a weird time but I just tried to take it in stride.
“I had a good upbringing. Some guys might skip this tutor, skip this class. I didn’t do that. The 18 years of upbringing I had before I got here, it was always in the back of my mind, ‘You better go (to class).’ Nobody was watching but I would feel bad if I woke up and knew I missed that. I would feel bad inside. I credit that to the way I was raised and it has paid off. Other people, it can take them some time to realize that but everybody gets there at some point.”
It never bothered him when his friend, former Lexington Lafayette offensive lineman Landon Young, did play as a true freshman offensive tackle. He was highly rated as a prep player like Jackson but didn’t have to go through the 2016 season without playing.
“I am not a 6-7 tackle. It’s just different. I was happy for him and supportive of him,” Jackson said. “There’s no jealousy or anything like that because it is a different position. He was playing tackle and we were thin on tackles and I played behind Jon Toth who never came out. I was happy for him. He’s doing a great job. Everybody’s time comes differently. It doesn’t really define the type of college football player you are. It’s no big deal when your time comes but when it does, you better take advantage and that’s what I tried to do.
“I was keeping the mindset my first year that I might play because I didn’t want to say I was a redshirt, so I will take this play off. I think that helped me keep that competitive mindset. Even the second year I kept grinding to get there and eventually it all worked out for me.”
Jackson also found that playing at Kentucky was even more fun than he thought it would be. He committed midway of his junior season and graduated a semester early to get a head start on his collegiate career.
“As many times as you can visit and talk to guys, you don’t know what their schedule is like, you don’t know the camaraderie of the team, you don’t know some of those insider things. It has been a lot of fun. Getting use to all that has been a process but it has paid off in a big way. I love it here even more than I thought I would,” Jackson said.