Antwuan Jackson wasn’t used to getting pulled off the field in high school.
Cedar Grove coach Jermaine Smith’s efforts to rest the standout senior lineman for a few plays at a time were often met with blank stare.
“He was always surprised when I would try to take him out,” Smith said. “What a lot of people don’t understand is that he was a two-way starter for four years for us. He did what like two or three people normally do and had an unbelievably impact for four years.”
Smith credited Jackson with helping Cedar Grove become one of the top high school teams in Georgia the past two years. The Saints lost five games over the two-year stretch with two of the losses coming in the state playoffs to the eventual Class 3AAA champion.
In the fall, Cedar Grove lost 24-8 to Westminster in the semifinals to finish the season 11-2-1. Jackson’s gaudy defensive numbers included 50 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and 10.5 sacks.
Many of the reasons Jackson succeeded during his high school career — his impressive size (6-foot-2, 300-plus pounds), maturity and football IQ — have Smith confident the lineman will find a place on the field at Jordan-Hare Stadium in his first season.
“With the way he understands the game and gets off the ball, I would be very surprised if he didn’t make the rotation in the fall,” Smith said.
Jackson has the added advantage of being one of Auburn’s nine early enrollees that arrived on campus in early January.
“He loves it man,” Smith said Jackson’s time on campus this month. “He’s still only 18 years old, just a kid and he’s going to be playing with men. He just has to learn from them.”
Jackson is eager to work closely with Auburn’s defensive line coach Rodney Gardner. Smith said the assistant coach is one of the key reasons the lineman committed to the Tigers over fellow finalists Ohio State, Georgia and Florida.
“He’s a loyal kid,” Smith said. “Coach Garner is the first one to offer Antwuan and that relationship stayed strong throughout the whole process. He didn’t want to disappoint coach.”
As one of the highest rated defensive tackles in the Class of 2016, Smith believes Jackson will want to prove himself and all the attention he received during the recruiting process.
“When he got those early offers as a freshman it made him want to prove to everybody that he was good enough,” Smith said.