Naperville Central quarterback Sam Jackson throws the ball during the Red Grange Classic 7-on-7 football tournament at Wheaton Warrenville South High School on June 28.
Naperville Central quarterback Sam Jackson throws the ball during the Red Grange Classic 7-on-7 football tournament at Wheaton Warrenville South High School on June 28. — Sandy Bressner - sbressner@shawmedia.com

Sam Jackson prepared to play quarterback at Naperville Central by learning under a three-star Michigan State commit in Payton Thorne and seeking inspiration from Peyton Manning.

“He had a great mentor,” Naperville Central head coach Mike Stine said of Jackson. “He got to play behind the best quarterback in the state last year in [Thorne], and Sam really learned a lot from just watching Payton’s work ethic and what he does in the classroom breaking down film.”

Learning behind Thorne was crucial to Jackson's upcoming junior season as the Minnesota commit transitions from wide receiver to quarterback.

“I learned a lot,” Jackson said. “He showed me how to become a better leader to my teammates, not only on the field, but off the field, too. He taught me a lot of things about coverages. When I came to [Naperville] Central he was talking about the reads on every play, the coverages and how to beat the coverages.”

When it comes to breaking down coverages, Jackson also sought inspiration from one of the best.

“My favorite quarterback of all time is definitely Peyton Manning,” Jackson said. "Just because of how he plays and how much of the game he knows. He's really just a student of the game.”

“Him and his dad love Peyton manning,” Stine added. “Peyton Manning obviously is a pocket quarterback. I know that’s what Sam wants to be. He's been brought up to be a pocket quarterback, [but] he's also a legit 4.4, 4.5 kid.”

Jackson's athleticism caught the eye of Division I schools early, and the 5-foot-11 junior committed to Minnesota in February. He showed off his speed last year playing receiver when he caught 50 passes for 860 yards and 14 touchdowns at a clip of 17.2 yards per catch.

The junior QB will take the passing insight from Manning while using his speed to be a dual-threat quarterback.

“I'm really a pass-first [quarterback], but I can definitely run,” Jackson said. “I know people haven't really seen me run at the QB spot yet. I guess you can say I’m pretty fast. I’ll definitely be a threat in passing and running the ball.”

The experience at wide receiver is helping Jackson communicate the lessons he learned while playing the position last season.

“It really helped me a lot,” Jackson said. “Since I played receiver, now I can teach my receivers … teaching them about the speed of the game, how to run routes, how to get open and catch the ball.”

Jackson has high expectations for the 2019 season.

“Becoming a better leader, leading my team to winning the (DuPage Valley Conference) and then winning a state championship," he said.

Stine, who reiterated those team goals, said Jackson has a bright future ahead of him as he progresses at his new position.

“We’re very excited to see him continue to grow,” Stine said. “He's still young. He's [only] a junior. Sky’s the limit for him. It truly is."