When seven seniors from the Mount Airy High School football team made the college commitments in one ceremony back on March 9, a few of them expressed in interest in possibly returning to the sideline as a coach someday.
Tanner Jackson, a mainstay at wide receiver for the Granite Bears the past two seasons, decided he didn’t want to wait to turn this chapter in his football career. While his six teammates all opted to continue their playing careers, Jackson, who caught 32 passes for 457 yards and five touchdowns as a member of the Mount Airy varsity, will be beginning his coaching career in the fall at Appalachian State.
“I was going to go play, and I had some offers from some smaller schools, but then I got a text from an undergrad student assistant at Appalachian,” Jackson recalled. “I went up there and watched spring practice, and I knew that was where I needed to be.”
On a team that was filled with the types of players that small-college football programs love to recruit, Jackson, who first came up to the varsity late in his sophomore season and earned three varsity letters, had plenty of interest at the NCAA Division III level. He received concrete offers from Guilford and Averett, and said that a handful of other D3 teams in the region also contacted him. Jackson might have followed in the footsteps of his teammates and played four more years of football, but his love of the game was already leading him in another direction.
“It’s been a dream of mine to coach in college, and I’ll probably be able to accomplish that after I graduate,” he said. “I’d like to coach in college if I can, but if not I’ll come back to high school.”
Jackson entered the Bears’ lineup early in his junior season, caught his first pass in week two of the 2016 season, and led the team with three catches for 47 yards in a 21-7 victory. Mount Airy ended up winning 13 games that season and reaching the West Regional final. He had similar numbers in his senior season, but this time the Bears won their first 14 games of the season and reached the state championship game. In his last game, Jackson caught three passes in Mount Airy’s loss to Tarboro at Carter-Finley Stadium.
“The highlight for me, by far, was playing in Raleigh in the state championship,” Jackson said.
With his long-term goal set on coaching football, rather than simply playing collegiately and then moving on, the opportunity to be a student assistant at ASU, which went 9-4 last season, earned a share of the Sun Belt Conference title and won a bowl game, was too much to pass up.
Jackson will work with the safeties, something he’s familiar with since he often played that position defensively for the Bears, and will also be the offensive coordinator for the Mountaineers’ scout team.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.