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Wednesday, April 3, 2013
Justin Jackson ready to lead Wake Forest D

By Heather Dinich

Keep an eye on the fancy footwork of Wake Forest linebacker Justin Jackson this fall. The man can dance.

No, really.

Justin Jackson
Linebacker Justin Jackson said he's focused on forcing turnovers as Wake Forest aims to earn a bowl berth in 2013.
He’s taken classes in several different genres: ballet, modern, hip-hop, African, “pretty much everything,” he said. Jackson was working toward a minor in dance -- a degree he’s not going to be able to complete because his football schedule conflicts with an afternoon class. Football, of course, is the priority, especially after last year’s disappointing 5-7 finish.

“We weren’t satisfied with where we ended up last year,” Jackson said. “We’re all going to work really hard to get back in the swing of things, get back into a bowl.”

It’s going to start with the linebackers, who should be the strength of the Deacs’ defense this year. The group is a good mix of experience and young talent. Jackson and Mike Olson are the veterans of the group, but the staff has also been impressed by Teddy Matthews, who is a potential starter, and Kevis Jones.

If the Deacs are going to get back to the postseason, though, the staff has stressed the importance of forcing turnovers. In 2006, when Wake Forest won the ACC title, the Deacs were tied for No. 10 in the country in turnovers gained with 31, and were No. 6 in the country in turnover margin. Last year, the Deacs had 23 takeaways and were No. 25 in the country in turnover margin.

Not bad, but they’re looking for more.

“We need to get a lot better as far as taking the ball back from the other team,” Jackson said. “Our coaches were showing us how many takeaways the bowl team defenses had last year. We weren’t too far from that. If we strive for those numbers, we should get back to a bowl. There was a really strong correlation between defensive takeaways and bowl teams.”

Jackson started every game last year after moving to outside linebacker from inside. He led the team with 81 tackles, and 8.5 tackles for loss. He also had four sacks, two pass breakups, four quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and a blocked kick.

“I really like the outside backer,” he said. “I’m playing a little bit more in space and still get to rush the passer.”

Clearly, he’s got the feet for it.