Dontrell Jackson Jr. has his dream of being a starting varsity quarterback just within reach.
“It would mean a lot to me,” the Marist sophomore said. “I work very hard at what I do to get better at my craft. To accomplish that at only 15 (years old) would be a very big accomplishment.”
Jackson is locked in a close position battle this summer with senior Hayden Mikesell for the starting job.
Jackson started at quarterback on the freshman team along with playing in two junior varsity games last season. Mikesell saw time in four games for the RedHawks last season behind starter Mike Markett, who graduated in the spring.
Marist coach Ron Dawczak expects the competition to continue with fall practice underway this week. The RedHawks open the season Aug. 31 against Chicago Dunbar.
"Mikesell performed very well when called upon to play as a junior last season," Dawczak said. "Dontrell is only a sophomore, but has proven with his performance this summer that he also deserves to play QB ... Considering he is only going to be a sophomore, his ceiling is extremely high. It is going to be an extremely difficult decision."
It's been a busy summer for Jackson, who received an offer from Illinois in June after impressing at the Friday Night Lights camp, according to the Illini Inquirer. Additionally, Jackson competed at Penn State's and Iowa's underclassmen camps.
"I believe the thing about Dontrell that has attracted so much attention from the Big Ten schools is his playmaking ability as a QB," Dawczak said. "He is very advanced as a passer considering he is only a sophomore, and he is a gifted athlete who can hurt defenses with his legs."
The 5-foot-11 Jackson has trained with QB coach Greg Holcomb at Next Level Athletix since he was in sixth grade. Holcomb, who also works with Nazareth junior and Michigan commit J.J. McCarthy, sees why Big Ten schools have shown interest in Jackson so early.
“He does a lot of special things with the football that go beyond his arm," Holcomb said. "He just such a threat with his feet and with his arm … Illinois has a quarterback there named Isaiah Williams. Dontrell probably reminds them a lot of Isaiah, so I’m sure offering Dontrell was a slam dunk."
Holcomb also said that Jackson's natural ability combined with his work ethic makes him special.
“He trains almost every week with me so he's a hard worker," Holcomb said. "He comes focused and ready to get after it … His work ethic matches his skill level. He has a natural ability, but he also doesn't just rely on it. He's focused on getting better."
Jackson has dreams of playing Division I college football and beyond, but was focused this offseason on improving for his sophomore season.
“What I improved upon from last year was my passing,” Jackson said. “I got better at passing on the run, deep balls, more like intermediate and deep passes.”
Jackson has high expectations for his sophomore season.
“Goals this season are to win conference first and then win state,” Jackson said. “Just take it game by game and play by play, but the ultimate goal is to win state.”
The bar is set high this season after Marist went 11-2 last season, making it to the Class 8A semifinal game against Brother Rice. Jackson knows what it’s going to take to make a run at the state championship.
“It’s going to take a lot of hard work and preparation,” Jackson said. “We’re going to have to come out every game with a lot of energy and effort because that’s what will set us apart from all of the other teams that we play this year.
“I’m very excited for the season. I’m pumped up for it.”