Versatile athlete

UMHB sophomore D’Andre Jackson will make his second start at free safety Saturday against Wheaton.

Michael Miller/Telegram

BELTON — That D’Andre Jackson has made starts at two defensive positions says something about the mechanical engineering major’s ability to process information.

The fact that he’s done so after playing sparingly on defense in high school speaks volumes about the Mary Hardin-Baylor sophomore’s athleticism.

“I was a running back/quarterback. I played four games at safety in high school, Jackson said. “I don’t know how, but (UMHB defensive coordinator Larry Harmon) liked what he saw of me at safety and came to my school and recruited me.”

Harmon’s hunch has turned prophetic as the 6-foot, 190-pound Jackson prepares to make his second start of the season at free safety when No. 2 UMHB (12-0) hosts No. 12 Wheaton (11-1) in an NCAA Division III quarterfinal at noon Saturday at Crusader Stadium.

Jackson’s initial start at free safety came last week in the Crusaders’ second-round win over No.7 Linfield, which came on the heels of two starts at strong safety — or Cru-back as it’s known in UMHB’s terminology. And all of that followed a freshman season in which he appeared in all 13 games and started one.

It’s a somewhat meteoric rise for a guy who got to campus with a primitive defensive background.

“Because I had played only four games on defense in high school, everything was brand new when I got here,” the Friendswood Clear Brook product said. “I’ve just tried my best to master the craft and skills of a defensive back. I’m starting to get there.”

That’s a modest take on things. Through his devotion to learning the nuances of the safety positions — not to mention a skill set that helped him excel in football, basketball, baseball and track at Clear Brook — Jackson has made 29 tackles, 2½ for losses, and two interceptions.

Just to prove that he hasn’t forgotten any of the moves from his days as a ball carrier, he returned one of the picks for a touchdown.

“My two interceptions stand out in my mind,” Jackson said. “I wish I could have more, but I made sure to take care of those two opportunities.”

Taking advantage of opportunities is a theme that Jackson can talk about at length, evidently, because the topic was brought up repeatedly during conversation Wednesday outside the team’s field house.

“I’m thankful for the opportunity that (the coaches) gave me. I’m just really trying to fulfill that role to the best of my ability,” he said in one of several statements that touched on the opportunistic notion. “To be honest, I’m going to try my best to make the team a better team no matter where they put me,” was another.

Out of nowhere, though — like any of the bone-jarring hits he’s delivered this season — Jackson can break out a metaphor-laden soliloquy about the Crusaders’ quest to reach the national championship game in Salem, Va., a goal they began aiming for immediately after last season ended.

“You just have to commit, be determined and go all out,” he said. “You have to go with the flow. We’ve been on this boat since January and we are trying to row our way to Salem.”

Using a trip across water — sometimes a smooth voyage, sometimes a rough one — to symbolize the team’s quest to reach the Stagg Bowl?

This guy really is multi-talented.

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