In a slightly different world, the Arizona Wildcats would have a linebacker named Arthur Jackson.
Sir Thomas Jackson is so much cooler.
Sir T. might be even better.
The story goes that his aunt suggested “Sir Thomas” as a unique twist on his father’s name of plain ol’ Thomas, and that was a better idea than “Arthur.”
Growing up, the name became Sir T.
“He’s not a knight yet,” Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said with a grin. “He’s a Sir.”
The real story here, though, isn’t his name. It’s that Sir Thomas Jackson, a walk-on from Seattle, surprisingly started the first game of his redshirt freshman season at outside linebacker and didn’t often leave the field, making seven tackles as Arizona beat Toledo 24-17 in overtime Saturday night.
He wasn’t a guy anybody really talked about during fall camp. Wasn’t someone who was working with the first team during the 30-minute windows media could watch practice. Wasn’t on the Week 1 depth chart, even though he said he was told he was starting the Sunday before the game.
He didn’t even tell family and friends back home that he was starting until Friday.
“Everybody was shocked,” Jackson said.
No doubt it helped that sophomore Hank Hobson was out with a shoulder injury. Arizona’s optimum linebacker corps figures to have Jake Fischer in the middle, flanked by Hobson and converted safety Marquis Flowers.
But Rodriguez is trying to get to the point where he can be comfortable playing 22 to 25 players on defense — which was not the case vs. Toledo — so Jackson is at least a welcome addition to the team’s depth.
“I knew I had a good kid who worked hard,” Rodriguez said about his first impressions of Jackson in the spring.
“He’s a tough guy. He’s very coachable. As far as walk-ons go, he epitomizes what you hope to see — a guy who comes in and tries to prove himself every day. I’m really proud of him.”
Jackson’s former high school coach, Monte Kohler of Seattle O’Dea, echoed those thoughts.
“He has a great motor,” Kohler said.
“He was really coachable. Really, extremely coachable. He asked great questions. He was a three-year starter for us, and as a senior he still showed that willingness to learn, wanting to get better. We’re pretty proud of him.”
He played defensive end in high school, which helps explain why this undersized all-state player — listed now at 6-0, 215 pounds — wasn’t overflowing with scholarship offers. Air Force came up with one. Other schools, such as Arizona, Washington State and Washington, recruited him to walk-on.
“The film on him was as a defensive lineman, and we tried to tell coaches he would be a stand-up defensive end or linebacker in college,” Kohler said.
“He was a football player. It’s just his motor. Every snap, every practice. Everything he did, he did full speed.”
He hasn’t slowed down in college. Recruited to Arizona by former defensive coordinator/linebackers coach Tim Kish and recruiting coordinator Dave Emerick, Jackson stayed with the program through the coaching change and was rewarded with a coach who values walk-ons as much as anybody.
“He told us he was a walk-on, too (at West Virginia), so I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to get a chance, too, if I keep working hard and everything,’” Jackson said.
“He had it rough like I had it rough. Sometimes in fall camp, I didn’t think I was going to play all that much. I would kind of get my head down. But I kept picking my head up everybody single day like there was opportunity.”
There was. He said the best thing he did in the opening game was “playing with confidence.”
“Just going out there trying to get my rough hits … slice some heads up. That’s all I really try to do,” he said. “Sometimes I do mess up, but I try to go 100 miles an hour.”
If he keeps that up, perhaps he might yet make knighthood.
OK, so Jackson has heard it all about his name. And he hears it every day.
“At least three times a day,” he said. “It’s like ‘Sir … Thomas?’
“Every time someone says, ‘Sir,’ I look around … but sometimes they’re not calling my name.”
He said only his mom and grandmother actually take the time to call him by his full name “Sir Thomas.”
As long as the coaches keep calling his number and he keeps making tackles … what’s in a name?
“He believed, we believed, that he was a Division I athlete,” Kohler said. “And he is.”