Jemeil Jackson takes a handoff during practice.
When Monte Vista High School’s Jemeil Jackson takes the Mesa College field Saturday afternoon for the San Diego Section Division IV Championship, you can bet under his helmet and pads will be a heart full of pride and accomplishment.
“We have started a new age at Monte Vista,” said the senior running back. “My objective has been to make Monte Vista better and bring back all the greatness they used to have.”
Returning Monarch football to where it was before it fell into a rut and won just 16 of 71 games in seven years is a big task.
The team’s history includes great moments, like in 2003 when the Monarchs beat archrival Helix 20-3 to win the Division II title; or the 1995 Division II final thriller when they edged Escondido 13-12.
And Monte Vista has had its share of great players, including 1999 Section Offensive Player of the Year Michael Wiley; Gary Franklin who scored 32 TDs in 2001; and Darrell Mack who amassed 2,452 yards rushing in 2004.
“(The coaches) showed us highlight films from our past, like Mack and us beating Reggie Bush,” said Jackson, who has rushed for 1,580 yards on 208 carries and 11 TDs this season.
Jackson is making his own highlight films for future Monarchs to envy.
In last week’s semifinal, his fourth-quarter TD runs of 57 and 28 yards propelled the Monarchs past La Jolla, 41-24. Against Santana he scored 30 points on four TDs and a trio of two-point conversions in the Monarchs’ 44-3 victory.
Then there was the Patrick Henry game. After losing 9-6 on an overtime field goal to the Patriots last year, Jackson helped Monte Vista gain revenge with a 28-21 overtime win, rushing for career-best 360 yards and two TDs.
“I was so nervous in overtime,” admitted the two-time Grossmont Valley League Offensive Player of the Year. “I just kept thinking to myself, ‘don’t fumble, don’t fumble.’ I had to get that touchdown.”
“As an athlete, he’s pretty impressive on both sides of the ball,” said Monte Vista second-year coach Ron Hamamoto. “That’s why Cal-Davis is interested in him as a safety.”
His athletic talent isn’t limited to the gridiron.
He’s also a starter in basketball with his twin brother, Jordan, who proudly boasts being eight minutes older and 4 inches taller at 6-foot-3.
Jemeil is also one of the stars of the track team. His best times last year include a 22.54 in the 200 meters and 50.31 in the 400.
“I really think I could do much better than those times. I was doing a lot of lifting for football, and that doesn’t help,” said Jackson, who came home with four gold medals in four events at the Otay Ranch Invitational last year.
Ironically, Jackson didn’t start playing sports until high school.
“I was just not into sports when I was a kid,” he confessed. “I didn’t know anything about high school sports. I just liked to run around with my friends.”
So where did all the talent come from?
His father, James Jackson, who lives in Arizona, played five seasons as a running back in the NFL following a college career at the University of Miami (Fla.). His best year was his 2001 rookie season when he rushed for 554 yards on 195 carries for the Cleveland Browns.
His mother, Dainaie Hilbert starred in basketball, track and volleyball at San Diego High School, and even got a look with the WNBA.
In Saturday’s finals the Monarchs face Sweetwater, the team they beat 34-3 for their first victory of the season after three loses.
“I’m shocked with my senior year,” Jackson said. “To start off 0-3 have a chance for a championship….”