SportStars Magazine

Giles Jackson: Slot Machine

Giles Jackson, Freedom-Oakley slot receiver

Freedom-Oakley’s Dynamic Running Back Turned Coaches Comments Into A Quick Decision — Now Giles Jackson Is NorCal’s Most Coveted Slot Receiver Recruit •

It wasn’t a questionable gamble when Giles Jackson chose to run routes as a slot receiver during various spring and early summer football showcase events. The senior from Freedom High-Oakley, after all, caught 47 passes for 842 yards and 13 touchdowns as a sophomore.

Giles Jackson, Freedom-Oakley slot receiver

Giles Jackson rushed for over 1500 yards as a junior, but his future appears set as a slot receiver. (Photos by Chace Bryson)

But Jackson played running back for the Falcons last season. And while there was one college offer from San Jose State as of mid-January, the 5-foot-9, 175-pounder knew some colleges were looking for running backs with more size.

“I was at the All-American Army combine (in Texas) and was with the running backs. Some of the coaches told me I was the best at running routes and catching the ball out of the backfield,” Jackson recalled during a recent phone interview. “I switched to slot receiver and it took off from there.”

Jackson says it was “my idea” to make the position switch for college coaches to evaluate. It wasn’t done at the request of anyone else. What “took off from there” was Jackson’s college offers. Once he showed what he could do playing as a slot receiver at other combines, the offers came rushing in like water from a broken dam. 

In early July, Jackson narrowed his college finalists to five. It’s a group of major college programs: Michigan, Oregon, USC, Florida and Oregon State. He says he will commit on Aug. 24 because that’s his mother’s birthday.

Earlier in May, Jackson wasn’t in any of the top 100 lists of California players from the Class of 2019 by any of the major recruiting networks. By the middle of July, he was in the top 30 in at least one, and still possibly moving up even higher. He was one of the top receivers at Nike’s Oakland regional version of The Opening back in March. That earned him an invite to Nike’s The Opening Finals held at the Dallas Cowboys’ massive training complex in Texas.

In fact, if there was an award given to the one football player in California who blew up the most during the recent spring-early summer combine and camp season, Giles Jackson would be the choice.

Giles Jackson, Freedom-Oakley slot receiver“It’s a testament to him in his understanding of the team and that he is a team player,” said first-year Freedom head coach Andrew Cotter, who was previously head coach at Moreau Catholic-Hayward and is taking over for former head coach Kevin Hartwig, who resigned after a stint that began in 2002. “Giles Jackson just wants to play.

“It talks about his perseverance and his passion. A lot of times when kids don’t have those initial looks from colleges, they shut it down. For Giles, he said, ‘Hey, this isn’t me. I’ll do what it takes.’ Now, he’s one of the biggest recruits in the nation.”

So was it just simply a position switch for colleges that turned the tide for Jackson? That might not be fair to his work ethic.

“I just knew I had to work harder than ever,” he said. “After a while, I knew changing positions was going to help and I knew I had to put in extra time in the weight room.”

It also helped Jackson get into a certain mental framework heading into the camps and combines he attended.

“I felt like an underdog every time I hit the field. It was like all the hard work was paying off, but there was more to do.”

Giles Jackson, Freedom-Oakley slot receiverThat underdog mentality was evident when Jackson played as a sophomore, not just for himself but for the entire Freedom squad. The Falcons weren’t expected to challenge either perennial power Pittsburg or nearby Antioch (which had Najee Harris, the nation’s No. 1 running back) for the Bay Valley Athletic League title, but they beat both of them and were 11-0 and at No. 9 in the state before running into longtime CIF North Coast Section champion De La Salle-Concord in the first NCS Open Division championship. That was followed by a loss to St. Mary’s-Stockton in the CIF Division 1-AA NorCal regional bowl game.

After catching those 13 touchdown passes that season, Jackson was switched to become a primary running back last season. He was one of the best in the region, rushing for 1,586 yards and 22 TDs. The Falcons weren’t as successful but still went 9-3 and reached the NCS Division I championship before losing to Liberty 37-0.

Some slot receivers who’ve made it big, such as 2011 Lincoln-Stockton grad Brandin Cooks (who signed an $80 million five-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams this summer), have shown their speed while competing in track. Jackson missed his freshman track season with a hip injury and then missed his sophomore season with a torn meniscus. After that, he decided to concentrate on football only. 

He knows about Cooks, but said his favorite slot receivers in the NFL are Tyreek Hill (Kansas City Chiefs) and Tavon Austin (who ironically is the player Cooks is replacing in that role for the Rams). 

Giles Jackson, Freedom-Oakley slot receiverCotter didn’t want to give away game plans, but it should be obvious Jackson will continue to play running back. He’ll also will line up in the slot when certain matchups arise.

“The biggest thing is that he’s going to do whatever is best for the high school,” Cotter said. “In this day and age, it’s easier to move kids around (on offense). The kids have been with 7-on-7 teams and they all know how to run routes. He’s gonna play tailback, but the biggest thing is going to be to get him the ball in space. That’s where he’s so dangerous.”

“I think it’s going to be fine,” Jackson said of Cotter replacing Hartwig. “Right now, we just need to bond as a team. The offense may be more of a power offense, more of a pro-style offense. Whatever it takes.”

This year, even with Jackson’s talents, it may be harder for the Falcons to stay close to Pittsburg and Liberty. Both teams return the bulk of their lineups and both are among the top 10 preseason teams for Northern California. 

“The BVAL is a traditional powerhouse league and should be even more so this season,” Cotter said. “Out here, football is very, very important to the communities.”

Being in that underdog role in some of those games, however, may be just where Giles Jackson wants to be. 

He’s already proven what he can do when he’s feeling that way.

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