Liberty U. stuck with Bees' Jackson
Lynchburg News & Advance
Thursday, February 7, 2008

Liberty football coach Danny Rocco had some time to kill after visiting with Salem High School coach Steve Magenbauer one day last spring. So naturally, as football coaches tend to do, Rocco gravitated to Magenbauer's film library.
One tape caught Rocco's eye, one from Salem's most recent game against Brookville. Magenbauer raved about the play of Brookville's Ryan Jackson, and Rocco wanted to watch some extra film of the lineman.

"Well, which side of the ball do you want to watch?" Magenbauer asked Rocco. "Because you won't like him on offense, because you're going to really like him on defense."

Rocco watched the film and found himself intrigued with Jackson's explosiveness off the edge of the defensive line and the smooth manner in which he reached the quarterback. It was almost effortless.

"This was kind of an unsolicited, third-person endorsement of the kid, and from a very good program," Rocco said. "So when I went in here and heard Steve talk about the prospect, and then I went and watched the game, I pretty much made my mind up that this guy can play for us, and extended a scholarship soon thereafter."

If it was only that easy.

Jackson soon caught the eye of coaches from big-time programs. Virginia Tech, Boston College, West Virginia, Virginia and Notre Dame all showed some interest.

Then Jackson suffered a devastating knee injury early in his senior season at Brookville, and the big boys went away.

Liberty didn't.

"They were the only ones that stuck with me," Jackson said Wednesday after signing his national letter of intent to join Liberty's program. "The coaching staff cares for you more as a person than they do as a player. I liked that."

Jackson is one of 16 players who signed with Liberty Wednesday. Rocco filled most of his team's immediate needs. He went into the recruiting season with three goals: to sign big bodies on both the offensive and defensive lines, to add depth at receiver and defensive back, and to shore up the team's kicking situation.

Alabama transfer Alex Stadler was the marquee name on the offensive line, but Liberty also signed a 6-foot-6, 320-pound lineman from Maryland private school power DeMatha (D.J. Sellman) and a 6-5, 305 pounder from Chilhowie in Aaron Lundy.

Jackson, whose knee is healthy enough that he is back on the mat ready to defend his Group AA wrestling title at Brookville, figures to play defensive end at Liberty.

Liberty also added Stan Herring, a 6-4, 275 pounder from Woodstock, Ga., and Greg Schuster, a 6-2, 275 pounder from the Charlotte area on the defensive line.

At receiver, LU landed an athletic talent in 6-2, 190 pounder Steven Crawford from Lehigh Acres, Fla. It also added a smaller, possession-type threat in 5-10, 175 pounder Jim Eden out of Landmark Christian in the Atlanta area.

Rocco said Eden is a player in the Wes Welker mold, a short, shifty receiver with great hands who finds seams near the line of scrimmage.

Another important piece was punter/kicker Matt Bevins, who attended Warwick High School in Newport News. Liberty loses punter Zac Kolegue and kicker Noah Greenbaum, meaning the Flames need help in all areas of the kicking game.

Rocco said Bevins will compete for playing time right away.

Liberty went into Furman's backyard and beat the perennial Southern Conference power out for quarterback Tyler Brennan out of Anderson, S.C., and it added a big, athletic tight end in 6-6, 240-pound Steven Wilkes, who played at Alleghany High in Clifton Forge.

The Flames also locked in commitments from linebackers Doncel Bolt, a 6-3, 245 pounder from Cerritos (Calif.) College, and Jamal Giddens, a 6-2, 210-pounder from Norfolk's Maury High.

"I think it's a very solid class from top to bottom," Rocco said. "I think we did meet our most specific needs."