When the Mustangs reflect on the 2011 season, a key part of their success and, in the end their failure to make the playoffs, will be the injuries that plagued the team. But even more so, reflections will settle on players, such as Kennith Jackson, who stepped up as leaders.
The leadership role isn’t something new to Jackson, though. He said he learned to be a leader early while growing up with his mom and two sisters in Santa Clara, Calif.
It was his mom, Charmaine Jackson, who Jackson said taught him to be who he is today, both on and off the field.
“I have everything that I got from my mom,” Jackson said. “She raised me and she chose to take me to private school in high school because she wanted me to have the best education and play football at a higher level. I owe it all to her.”
And “it all” started with a push from his mom after a young Jackson took to the football field.
“When I was young I got knocked down hard in practice and didn’t know if I wanted to play this game anymore,” Jackson said. “But my mom told me that I couldn’t be upset and that I had to get up.”
Jackson did get up, and he soon became the one doing all the tackling and a standout player on the field.
He excelled noticeably at linebacker and fullback for Archbishop Mitty High School in San Jose, Calif. In his senior year, he was the 30th ranked fullback in the country by ESPN Insider. After visiting UNLV, San Jose State and UCLA, he decided to come to Cal Poly so he could focus on playing defense.
After redshirting his first season, Jackson started 10 games the next season and finished the season second on the team with 58 tackles. Last season, he was named second team All-Great West and finished second on the team again with 67 tackles.
Jackson, now a junior, moved to middle linebacker in the off-season this year after playing his first two years at outside linebacker. He was tasked with replacing the cleats of last season’s leading tackler Marty Mohamed.
“When you are the middle linebacker, you are the heart of the front seven,” defensive coordinator Greg Lupfer said. “The middle linebacker has to be the leader of the defense, and that is what we expect out of Kenny.”
Jackson was up for the challenge of playing what football aficionados fondly refer to as “mike” (middle linebacker) both physically and mentally.
“Guys are going to look to you when you are the (mike) and I like it,” Jackson said. “It’s not just setting the front set, it’s being the guy that the other guys look to. It’s the game within the game and everyone has to play their role, and I have learned that by playing mike.”
Jackson responded well to the move inside this year. He is second on the team to Johnny Millard with 61 tackles, five of them for a loss, and one interception. However, Jackson’s biggest contribution has been the leadership he provided in a season that has offered plenty of adversity.
Adversity which included the temporary loss of starters such as Asa Jackson and Gavin Cooper to injuries. Asa injured his foot against Central Oklahoma and had to sit out against North Dakota, and junior defensive back Nico Molino has only played in five games.
“It’s an injury that I aggravated from my sophomore year,” Asa said. “It affects me the most when I am breaking and driving on the football.”
This, however, allowed for Jackson and other, younger players, such as freshman Kevin Britt and sophomore Vante Smith-Johnson, to get more playing time and establish themselves as forces on the field, not just in practice.
“I have confidence in all my players and know that they have prepared well and are ready to play,” Lupfer said. “This is an opportunity for the young guys, and they have to take advantage of opportunities.”
Although he is not one of the “young guys,” Jackson is an example of a successful position transfer resulting in a new leader establishing himself on the field just in time to go into his senior year when the Mustangs move to the Big Sky conference. And his teammates would agree.
“He is a great player and force in the middle,” junior cornerback Bijon Samoodi said. “Kenny always leads by example and brings it every time he is out there.”
But for Jackson, it all goes back to one person, his mom.
“Everything she did for me growing up, led me to here so I can’t complain,” Jackson said.