Julius Randle was one of Kenutcky's highest-rated signees in the nation's No. 1 basketball…
Sophomore Linebacker D.T. Shackelford, one of the more demonstrative and physical players on the Ole Miss football team, had, until last Thursday, delivered the biggest hit of this spring training. He had the "title" until JUCO Safety Damien Jackson closed in on TB Derrick Herman, who saw a crease at the line of scrimmage and was about to explode through it. The moment of truth was eventful for several reasons. One, it was the loudest strike of the spring session to date. Two, it marked, for sure, that Jackson meant business when he put on shoulder pads. Three, it was picture-perfect form tackling. Four, the collision caused an eruption on the defense that was contagious. D.T., most of all, went nuts, running around screaming "he brought the wood! he brought the wood!" "Man, that was some hit," laughed Shackelford enviously after practice. "My hit earlier in spring is now number two, but I'll get the title back." We're not so sure. That's not the first time Jackson has "brought the wood" this spring. And it won't be the last. Damien Jackson "If you're going to put on the pads, you may as well use them," said Jackson, a soft-spoken young man who seems appreciative, but not in awe, of his quick rise in status with the Rebel football team. "It's the only way I know how to play the game. It's football. Football is hitting." So far, Damien is pleased with his progress, but he believes he's got a lot more work to do. "Coach (Kim) Dameron and Coach (Tyrone) Nix are bringing me along nicely. They are being patient with me and teaching me as we go. Hopefully I can continue to learn and get better. "Our defense is not an easy system, but our coaches make it easy. They teach it where anyone can understand their job and then they expect you to go out there and get it done," he said. "I'm looking forward to the offseason because I want to get a little bigger and keep working on my speed. Jackson currently weighs 201 pounds, but would like to be in the 210 range come fall. "My whole life, I have been trying to gain weight, but if I get to 210, I'll reach my goal," said Jackson, who is 6-2 and, although put together well, a little wiry. "When I get to 210, I think I'll be a more physical player." Damien's goal is to be known as a playmaker. "That's the goal of everyone on defense, mine is no different," he closed. Jackson is reaching his goal quickly, said Safeties Coach Kim Dameron. Kim Dameron "I don't think he's very good at all," deadpanned Dameron, laughing. "No, he's a physical kid, he can run, he can play the ball in the air - he just makes plays. The thing I like about him the most is his football intelligence. "You don't have to go over and over and over things with Damien. He picks things up quickly and understands the concepts we are teaching. He's fit in really well and really quickly. I'm pleased with how far he has come in a short period of time." Does a player either have the knack to make plays or lacks that instinct? "It's all coaching, are you kidding me?" said Dameron, again with the jokes. "Seriously, I can get him in the spots and put him in the right coverage, but ultimately, it's a player's game and that kid can just play. He makes plays. "He's missed a few, put he makes more than he misses and when he gets there he's really improved his tackling fundamentals, which has made him more physical. He has no fear of being physical. It's been fun to have him around." Damien is breathing down the necks of starters Johnny Brown and Fon Ingram. "He needs more reps under his belt because those kids have played on this level, but when we get three safeties on the field at the same time, he's in there. What we have done every year is have three who play a lot," explained Dameron. "Last year, Fon was the third guy. The year before, Johnny was. This year, we'll see. It could be Damien. "I know this - if I have those three ready, I'll sleep better at night and so far Damien has fit in nicely. The defensive players have accepted both him and Wayne Dorsey, our other JUCO signee. We are excited about them." In the meantime, Jackson, with four spring practices left, will keep bringing the wood. Emphatically.
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