Before a Class 4A first-round playoff game on Nov. 2, East Hamilton senior Logan Jackson was the city’s most productive running back, having gained 1,519 yards and scored 23 touchdowns.
Following the Hurricanes’ first game – a 38-0 thumping of Marshall County – Jackson was still a standout running back. He just couldn’t run.
Jackson scored East Hamilton’s first two touchdowns on runs of 14 and 47 yards, but on a second-quarter play he broke free into the Marshall County secondary, went down hard, suffered a left knee injury and left the game.
Four days later, the severity of Jackson’s injury had been confirmed – a torn anterior cruciate ligament – and his season was over.
“I was hoping for the best, but it turned out pretty bad,” Jackson said at the time.
Within two days following his surgery, which was performed by Dr. Todd Bell of the Center for Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics in Chattanooga, Jackson started his rehabilitation at D1 Sports Training in East Brainerd. He was determined to recover and fulfill his dream of playing college football.
Seeing him Friday morning at D1, Jackson’s determination to return to the gridiron has put him way ahead of schedule in the recovery process.
“Honestly,” D1 trainer Jonathan Swanson said, “I wouldn’t say I’m surprised because I know how dedicated Logan is and how important this is to him. If it were anyone else, I’d be surprised.”
Jackson walked into the D1 facility, located behind Lowe’s just off Gunbarrel Road, at 10:02 a.m. wearing black shorts and a white T-shirt. He took off his street sneakers, put on football shoes and got to work. He started with warm-up exercises, ran a few easy sprints, did some lateral stop-and-goes, a few quick-steps on a large weight on the 60-yard turf field and fired off for a 40-yard sprint that showed most of the speed he had prior to the injury is back.
A few minutes later he was running 60-yard, door-to-door sprints, showing no signs of the injury save a scar on his left knee.
Unlike Swanson, Jackson voiced “a little” surprise at his quick recovery.
“After reading about Adrian (Pederson, Minnesota Vikings running back) and it taking him nine or 10 months to get back to where I am right now, yeah, I’m a little surprised. My trainer says I’m probably about five weeks ahead of schedule.”
The biggest problem Swanson has – and therapist Pablo Alvarez, too –is keeping Jackson from pushing too hard, too fast. They literally have to slow him down.
Jackson was concerned about losing some of the speed he possessed before that fateful game against Marshall County.
Before the injury, Jackson ran a 4.5-second 40-yard dash – he displayed that speed when he rushed for 176 yards and five touchdowns in the 2012 season-opening 55-14 demolishing of rival Signal Mountain. Marshall County players saw it as well.
He runs a 4.6-second 40 now.
“I was worried about getting my speed back, but not now,” the 6-foot, 208-pound Jackson said. “I think I’m like 85 to 90 percent back to where I was before I got hurt. Jonathan and Pablo both said don’t worry, it just takes time.”
Jackson works out six days a week. He works out strenuously on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday with a lighter session – stretching and “throwing a football around” – on Wednesday.
“I don’t think I need a day off,” said Jackson, who finished the 2012 season with 1,624 yards rushing and 25 touchdowns – he was the game’s leading rusher despite his early exit against Marshall County. “The trainers say I do.”
The second segment of Jackson’s Friday workout consisted of lifting heavy weights.
He started with 180 pounds and worked his way up to 220 in short order with various types of lifts. Friday’s lifting was designed more for his entire body while Tuesday lifting is geared toward strengthening his left knee.
The day’s final drills were centered on conditioning.
Throughout the rehab Jackson has remained supremely confident.
“I think I could play now,” he said. “I’ve got about two or three more weeks before the doctor releases me for full contact. I’m running, cutting and catching with the guys at East Hamilton. I could take a hit right now.
“I can make a cut. I’m just a little slower than I was, but to think I’m just six months out from surgery, I’m doing real good.”
Prior to the season-ending injury, Jackson was being recruited by Eastern Kentucky, Furman, Appalachian State and UT-Chattanooga. A day after being hurt, Jackson visited Tennessee Tech and refused to use crutches. That took more intestinal fortitude than he had imagined, but Jackson was able to pull it off.
Most of those schools continued to call Jackson, keeping the recruiting lines open, but none was offering a scholarship. Instead, they wanted Jackson to join their programs as a preferred walk-on player.
After careful consideration, Jackson, a Tennessee Sports Writers Association All-State selection, chose the Mocs, who play in the Southern Conference, a perennial power league that’s losing three of its football-playing members after this season – Georgia Southern, Appalachian State and Elon.
Those schools are being replaced by East Tennessee State, Virginia Military Institute and Mercer.
“I thought I had a good shot at getting a scholarship before I got hurt,” Jackson said, “probably from EKU or Furman. I wasn’t sure about Appy State and I thought UTC was a possibility. After the injury, they weren’t talking about scholarships and I understand that.”
However, it’s clear to Jackson that if his knee completely heals and he proves himself on the field a scholarship could be in his future at UTC.
“The way my knee is coming along, I’ve got a chance to get back on the field and show them what I can do,” Jackson said. “I’m not saying I’ll start because I have to get used to the system and plays, but I’ve got a decent chance at some playing time.”
Jackson admitted that Mocs coaches have thrown the “R” word – redshirt – out to him.
“It just depends on how my knee does,” he said. “I’m going down there for a physical in the next couple of weeks and work out and we’ll see how it goes.”
On one of Jackson’s sprints after fancy footwork on the bar-bell weight, he started off wrong and Swanson shouted, “You’re doing that one again.”
Jackson obliged with a correct first step and sprint.
“It’s about his reaction to my voice,” said Swanson, who has been with D1 for two years. “That first step has to be a quick one. Logan’s doing fine. He’s going to be fine.”
One thing is certain. No one will out-work Logan Jackson.
“It’s pretty amazing how he’s come back,” Swanson said.
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)