Early Entry Review: Added strength and weight allows Jackson to play a more physical brand of football

Early Entry Review

by Alyssa Britton-Harr

Please Read: Welcome to the new-look Inside the Gators

As an early enrollee in the Class of 2023, Ja’Keem Jackson spent the past five months with the University of Florida football program.

Jackson has relayed some notable moments from his first five months on campus with Eric Pinellas, his former head coach at Osceola High School

Pinellas shared his thoughts with Inside the Gators.

“He loves being at Florida, it’s like a dream come true for him,” Pinellas said. “He loves the atmosphere, he loves the school, the environment, the coaching staff, and his teammates.”

With the challenges that come for any freshman attending college, the adjustment can be rough, but Jackson seems to fit in well with his team and the school while really getting used to playing cornerback after moving to the position for the first time as a senior in high school.

“He has improved greatly on the field and in the weight room,” Pinellas said. “He was new to the position, so being under Coach [Corey] Raymond and the other defensive players have greatly improved his knowledge of the position.”

After Jackson’s commitment to Florida, other schools started to come after him, hoping that he would flip, but “The one thing he wanted to do was to be coached by Coach Raymond; it’s hard to find someone in the game that is better than him at the position of coaching defensive backs,” Pinellas said. “It wasn’t his whole decision to go to Florida, but it was a big part.”

Jackson has also transformed his body within his first few months as a Gator. Aside from his improvement on the field and getting used to a new position, he grew physically, gaining seven pounds, going from 179 to 186 pounds. The 6-foot-1 cornerback also improved his strength numbers across the board – coming in with a 250-pound bench, 400-pound squat, and a 250-pound clean in testing at the end of spring ball.

“He has put on some good weight, gotten a lot stronger, and the nutrition program has helped him also,” Pinellas said. ‘It is helping him become a more complete player, someone who cannot only cover receivers down the field but also is a more aggressive tackler.”

Jackson is not only being mentored by, but also competing with upperclassmen such as Jason Marshall Jr. “Marshall is the guy at Florida right now, but Jackson is around the third or fourth corner, so I definitely see him getting on the field, and getting playing time,” Pinellas said.

Experience and learning from the coaches and older players will allow Jackson to develop as a player and become better throughout his time on the team. Having been an early enrollee and a freshman, Jackson has received advice from the other players on the team, including Marshall, who, according to Pinellas, “Has pulled him to the side and gives him some pointers on certain things.”

One area where Jackson has thrived is he has showcased his ability to adapt quickly.

“Adapting to the speed of the game at the collegiate level, learning the nuances of the position, and the things people do to allow them to be successful in the program are things Jackson is picking up,” Pinellas said.

However, Coach Raymond has been Jackson’s ace in the hole in helping contribute to his early success at Florida. “He is the one teaching him the ins and outs of the position to help him succeed and be successful for the future,” Pinellas said.

After working with him over the spring, Coach Raymond explained to Pinellas that with Jackson’s skill set, he will have the opportunity to succeed in the Florida football program.

“Coach Raymond is looking forward to watching him progress from year to year and seeing how good he can become,” Pinellas said.

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  1. He's only been in the program for 5 months. When you start working with weights, you tend to lose a couple pounds before you start gaining muscle-weight. To add 7 pounds of muscle-weight in 5 months is pretty impressive. Now that his body is building muscle he'll add more in the next 5 months than he has in the first five.

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