Logan Jackson, the former East Hamilton star running back who will play for UTC as a preferred walk-on, rests during a workout recently at the D1 Sports complex near Hamilton Place. ACL surgery last November left Jackson with no scholarship offers, but he has been working out intensively six days a week for the last two months.
The scar runs just along the outside of his left knee, serving as both a four-inch-long reminder of the night his football career was derailed and an inspiration to get back on the field and prove the doubters wrong.
Last fall, East Hamilton senior Logan Jackson was the area's top running back and one of the most productive in the state. His blend of size (6-foot, 205 pounds) and determination helped him rush for a career-best 1,643 yards and 25 touchdowns through the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. College recruiters and opposing defenders alike wanted him in their clutches, but through the first three months of last season Jackson proved elusive for each.
But just two minutes into the second quarter of the Hurricanes' second-round playoff game, having already gained nearly 100 yards and scored two TDs, Jackson felt his left knee pop as he planted it to make a cutback on his ninth carry of the night.
"I had a couple of friends who had torn their ACL and had told me what it felt like when you stand up after hearing it pop," Jackson said. "As soon as I stood up and it locked up, I knew. As I walked off the field, the doctor hinted what it was. I was distraught."
The ACL tear cost him not only the chance to continue proving himself against top-level playoff competition but also scared off most of the college scouts. He had surgery two weeks after the injury, but with months of rehab staring him in the face, Jackson's recruitment went cold.
"I actually began rehabbing my knee before I even had surgery," Jackson said. "I wanted to get as much strength in it as possible, and the day after my surgery, I was at D1 [Sports Training] to begin moving my leg and getting it ready for rehab. A week later, I was pedaling a bike twice a week and lifting weights for my upper body the rest of the week.
"I stopped hearing from most of the colleges that had been recruiting me, and the ones that did call back said they couldn't give scholarship money to someone they weren't sure would be able to play again. I understood their point, but to be honest that really ticked me off -- to know I had worked so hard for something and it was gone in a flash of a second.
"I just decided to use that as my motivation to get back and prove everybody who doubted me wrong. I've been going six days a week for more than two months now and I'm feeling really confident. I'm already cutting on it, running pass routes, jumping hurldes and doing lateral exercises. I can't wait to get back on the field and prove what I can do."
Being snubbed or written off by many of the same recruiters who had wanted him before the injury has been the fuel behind the intense rehab schedule.
"What people don't realize is how relentless he is," East Hamilton coach Ted Gatewood said of Jackson, who with nearly 4,000 rushing yards was the offensive foundation for a fledgling four-year-old program that won 2011 and 2012 district championships. "He's got a different drive and work habits than most kids, and maybe more than any player I've known, Logan just wants to play football."
Jackson will join the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga roster as a preferred walk-on when preseason camp begins in late July. He had opportunities from other programs to begin as a walk-on and possibly earn a scholarship, but Jackson said the deciding factor for him was how the UTC staff handled his injury.
"We were just real honest with him and told him we wanted him to be a part of the program, but he had to show us he was healthy again and earn it," said UTC assistant Will Healy, who helps recruit many of the area schools. "We stayed in constant contact with him because he's a kid we've recruited for a couple of years and we know what kind of talent he is.
"What we've been real impressed with lately is the way he's handled the injury. Our whole staff has heard the buzz about how impressive his workouts are at D1. He's got a good-sized chip on his shoulder to prove something, and we believe he's going to be a big addition for us.
"We expect him to come in and work hard and find an opportunity to get on the field, whether it's offensively or defensively. He's versatile and has good size, so he could potentially earn playing time at several different positions. We'll just have to see where he is healthwise and where he fits in for us. But knowing his ability and his work ethic, we're excited to get him on the field."
Contact Stephen Hargis at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...