Highlands WR serves as speedy complement to his RB brother

Highlands' Jeremy Jackson runs drills during football practice at Highlands High School on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.
Highlands' Jeremy Jackson runs drills during football practice at Highlands High School on Thursday, Aug. 7, 2014.
Photo by Erica Dietz | Trib Total Media
| Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014, 9:24 p.m.

From Pee Wees to Wasps, Jeremy Jackson made his mark in Highland Hornets youth football as a running back, routinely returning to the hive with six points. Once a tiny, football-toting tyke in a giant helmet, he had a 40-touchdown season.

Now a senior at Highlands, Jackson is one of the A-K Valley's top wide receivers, a catch-and-go speedster who used the position change to not only help Highlands win, but also to keep up with his brother.

“We compete with each other in everything,” Jackson said of the relationship between him and his brother, Elijah, a senior running back. “If he scores, then I want to score. We had never been on the same team until last year. He pushes me, and I push him.”

The Jacksons grew up in the New Kensington-Arnold School District and would have gone to Valley had the family not moved across the Tarentum Bridge when the boys were in the fourth grade.

Highlands is glad they packed up the U-Haul.

Jeremy Jackson was a quiet-at-first offensive threat in a tough Class AAA Greater Allegheny Conference. But with Highlands dropping to Class AA for the first time, Jackson won't be able to sneak up on defenses. And he doesn't think his team can sneak up on anyone, either.

“Just because we dropped down people think we're going to come down here and kill everybody,” Jackson said. “We still have to be at our best. Coach A (Sam Albert) reminds us we still have to play our best.”

Jackson said Golden Rams assistant coach John Duffey, his cousin, first suggested to move him to wide receiver, a position Duffey played at Highlands.

Elijah Jackson was a 1,200-yard back last season and will centerpiece the offense again, his brother out wide and grinning.

“I moved (to receiver) because I didn't want to take my brother's spot,” Jeremy said with a laugh.

Jeremy Jackson (5-foot-11, 170 pounds), known as “JayJack,” caught 10 passes for 195 yards and four touchdowns last season. He also can be a streak of lightning on special teams as a kick and punt returner — as can his brother. Both had returns for touchdowns last year.

“With (Jeremy's) speed, you want to get the ball in his hands,” Highlands coach Sam Albert said. “With him at the slot, along with (receivers) Jordan Lineberg and Chris Fick, it's pick your poison we hope. But if teams key on those guys, that'll open thing up for ‘Reggie' (Elijah).”

The plan can work the other way, too.

In a scrimmage against Hopewell, Highlands saw a nine-man front as the Vikings tried to contain Elijah Jackson, but Highlands threw for four scores.

Jeremy Jackson wants to become more of a down-field threat — senior quarterback Blake Leri thinks he can be — but he showed last season that he was most dangerous on hitches and slants, bubble-screens and swing passes.

“Give me a short pass and I'll do the rest,” Jackson said.

He caught a quick slant and burned New Castle for a 38-yard touchdown in Highlands' 24-19 first-round playoff win.

“He's explosive,” Leri said. “He can make things happen in the flat. I think the sky's the limit for him.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is the local sports editor of the Valley News Dispatch. Reach him at bbeckner@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BillBeckner.

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