• Bill Caine, Woodford Sun Staff

Jackson earns playing time at Kentucky

DRAKE JACKSON readies to snap the ball in a matchup against Mississippi State earlier this season. (UK Athletics Photo)

The University of Kentucky football team has a new starting center and his name is Drake Jackson. The former Woodford County Yellow Jacket and U.S. Army All American is making waves on the field since seeing his first action in game five this season. Jackson came to the Kentucky football program in January 2016 after graduating early from Woodford County High School.

“It was wild when I first got here,” said Jackson. “I was trying to learn a new position that I had never played before but also just the experience of being part of something like Kentucky football. We started working out together as a team and then we started practice in March and you just fall into a routine and work as hard as you can to make an impression.”

Fast forward to the 2017 football season. The Wildcats were having trouble at the center position and there were starting to be some rumblings from the fans wondering when Jackson would see some time at center. Jackson was on the field for special teams but that was his only action at that point. The 6-foot-2, 290 lb Jackson is a formidable presence for any defender in the Southeastern Conference and the coaches started to come around to seeing Jackson's work ethic on the practice field. Jackson made his first offensive snaps during the Eastern Michigan game that the Wildcats won 24-20.

“The coaches were upfront and honest with me saying “Keep working hard at practice and your time will come,” said Jackson. “I really took that to heart because I want to be out there and I want to make a difference for this team. The week of the Florida game I had a great week of practice. My offensive line coach grabbed me and told me that if I could do this again next week that I would see some action. I went out on that practice field and the day before Eastern Michigan they told me I would go in on the third drive.”

Jackson looks back at the first couple of plays and laughs while describing the first snap he made against Eastern Michigan.

“Emotionally I was nervous coming out onto the field and if you look at the tape of the first snap, I totally missed my assignment,” said Jackson. “Since then I have been able to work the jitters out and things are going much more smoothly for me on the field. Those 46 snaps that I had in that game were the best learning tools for me. I was able to see them on film and get ready for the Missouri game.”

The following week, Jackson found himself matched up with one of the top five nose tackles in the country Terry Breckner of Missouri. Jackson handled his assignment well and gained valuable experience against one of the best in the game. As only a redshirt freshman, the feeling of getting hit by these stud defenders is something that Jackson will not soon forget.

“When you stand in there and you are face to face with these guys, it's as real as it gets,” said Jackson. “Being able to earn more playing time against a tough conference opponent only can make you a better player so I was excited about the chance to compete with those guys.”

Jackson made his first start in the 45-7 loss on the road at Mississippi State. Jackson stood his ground and although he allowed some pressure to the quarterback, held his own against a tough Bulldog defense. Jackson started again in the home game against Tennessee and had a up close and personal view to a fantastic comeback win.

“Going into the Tennessee game, we prepared very well for it,” said Jackson. “Right now I am trying to get better each week and be a good teammate. It's not about how I am doing anymore, it's about winning the game so if we all execute our game plan, we should win the games. If I can contribute and help my team win, there is no greater feeling than that.”

The Tennessee game was another epic battle in the history between the two teams. When the Wildcats and Volunteers get together, it's usually a heavyweight fight that comes down to the wire.

“Coach Stoops came in and challenged the offensive line, said Jackson. “He told us that we have to be successful in order for the team to move the ball. If we can keep the defenses on the field by moving the ball then we have a better chance to win. That's what makes our motors run. We want to be the best line in the country.”

The final drive of the Tennessee game was legendary. Quarterback Stephen Johnson score on a 11-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in the game and then threw a two point conversion to Benny Snell to make the score 29-26 in favor of the Wildcats.

“That final drive was incredible,” said Jackson. “We knew we had to pound the rock and open holes for the running backs to do that. “ We knew we had to give Steve time to throw the ball. We were able to execute against that very good defensive line. We went out on the field angry and played aggressively and it led to offensive chances.

Jackson followed the Tennessee game up with a solid effort against Ole Miss in a tough 37-34 loss. Jackson has established himself as a legitimate starting center in the SEC in a short amount of time. The Wildcats head to Vanderbilt on Saturday at 4pm where Jackson's team will battle his former Woodford County teammate Saige Young who is also starting at left guard for the Commodores.

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