Bellefonte coach Shanon Manning listed three attributes to sum up the success of his standout running back.
Good vision. Explosive athlete. No ego.
If you’re watching the Red Raiders on Friday nights, it’s easy to pick out Austin Jackson as he uses that vision and athleticism to make big plays. If you’re watching the Red Raiders practice, Manning said, it’s easy to overlook Jackson due to his personality.
“You would have no idea that Austin is on the practice field,” Manning said. “He’s quiet. He comes every day. He shows up on time, goes through every drill, he’s very unassuming in practice. He just does his job.”
After leaving last week’s game with an injury, Jackson is looking forward to getting back on the field when Bellefonte (1-3) hosts Tyrone (3-1) at 7 p.m. Friday. The Red Raiders are looking to bounce back after falling apart in the second half of a 28-17 loss to John Marshall a week ago. Tyrone is averaging 43 points in its three victories, including a 47-8 win over Philipsburg-Osceola last week.
Golden Eagles quarterback Drew Hunter has led an “extremely explosive” offense, throwing for 10 touchdowns and no interceptions while completing 60.3 percent of his passes. Parker Mitchell and Cullen Raftery are Tyrone’s leading receivers and have combined for nine touchdowns, and running back Gary Weaver is averaging 100.8 yards rushing per game.
“They live off a lot of big plays, and they make a living off getting you behind early,” Manning said. “Once they get you behind early, you can run the ball for as many yards as you want, but it’s really hard to crawl back into a game.”
The Red Raiders offense is built around their running game.
Jackson has proven to be a big-play threat throughout his career and leads the team in rushing this season. He broke out with a 176-yard, two-touchdown night in a win over Philipsburg-Osceola two weeks ago. He started strong last week, running for 62 yards and two touchdowns in the first quarter before leaving with an injury. Still, his effort helped the Red Raiders take a 17-0 halftime lead in their eventual 28-17 loss.
Jackson said he had contusions on his right hand.
“It was pretty disappointing,” Jackson said of being unable to return after the injury.
Manning said it will be a boost to get Jackson back.
“Last week, quite honestly, if he could have even played to halftime, that game could have very well been over,” Manning said. “… That can’t be an excuse for not winning a football game, and we won’t make it an excuse. Not one person can determine the outcome of a game, and I don’t want to put that type of pressure on any one person or the program for that matter.”
Jackson said he started in flag football, adding he was always one of the fastest players. In junior high, fellow running back Dillon Kephart said, Jackson was fast.
But Kephart said he’s gotten faster in high school.
“Once he gets on the edge, he’s gone,” Kephart said. “It’s almost impossible for anybody to catch him.”
Manning said it didn’t take long to notice Jackson’s ability when he took over as head coach.
That fall, as a sophomore, Jackson returned a kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against Clearfield. This season, Manning said Jackson has yet to field a kickoff despite being deep to receive.
“He’s not a hidden secret anymore,” Manning said.
Jackson has still found success on the ground with that vision and speed.
And he’s remained humble, deflecting credit for his success to the offensive line.
“We’ve had some nice holes,” Jackson said. “I’ve hit ’em at the right time.”