Friday Football Legend: North’s Darryl Jackson
By Mike London
Darryl Jackson is one ex-Navy man who isn’t abandoning ship.
Jackson played at North Rowan in the mid-1980s when the Cavaliers won football games with a relentless running game and dominating defense.
Twenty-three years after he last moved the chains in Spencer, Jackson still ranks second all-time among North rushers.
Jackson was a 1,000-yard man twice and Rowan County Offensive Player of the Year twice. He still bleeds green. He has two goals.
First, he’s launched a comeback in the classroom and is pursuing a master’s degree in psychology.
Second, he wants to watch his sons be part of a North comeback on the field.
“We won a lot when I was at North, and I try to relate to my own kids that everything turns with time,” Jackson said. “I see kids that could be at North being uprooted to go elsewhere, but we’re going to stick. I’d like to see the turnaround.”
No about-face was needed when Jackson arrived at North in 1984. Hall of Famer Larry Thomason was the coach. He had only two losing seasons in 19 years.
Jackson was 3-0 against Thomasville in his career. That tells you something about those North teams.
“Playing for Coach Thomason was a great experience,” Jackson said. “He was a strict coach with almost a military style. When I played for him I didn’t appreciate that, but I learned to appreciate his discipline in later years.”
When Jackson was a sophomore, he joined a backfield that included Deric Sims, a talented runner who was a year older. Jackson rushed for 697 yards in 126 carries. Sims led the county with 761 rushing yards for a 6-4 team that lost four tight games.
That hard-luck year set the table for a sensational 1985 season in which North won its first 11 games. Jackson led the county with 1,371 rushing yards. Sims was third in rushing. Quite a duo.
“There was no jealousy between Deric and me,” Jackson said. “We shared the load, worked together. It was a partnership. North wasn’t ‘The Airport’ then. We were run first and pass later.”
North QB Barry Glass didn’t complete a single pass against Thomasville in 1985 ó and didn’t need to. Jackson piled up 169 rushing yards in a 22-13 victory.
Two games from 1985 stick in Jackson’s memory ó one good, one bad.
First was a game with Lexington. The Yellow Jackets, with future NFL tight end Deems May at quarterback, were ranked No. 1 in the state. The result was stunning ó North 34, Lexington 0. Jackson and Sims both topped 100 rushing yards. The defense logged its third straight shutout.
“That game gave us exposure,” Jackson said. “The Greensboro paper. The Charlotte Observer. Everyone wanted to talk to us.”
The 1985 Cavaliers rank among the stoutest defenses in county history. In blankings of West Rowan, Salisbury and Lexington that opened that season, North forced 17 turnovers.
It all ended in the second round of the playoffs with a loss at Bunker Hill. That upset stung even more after Lexington won the 2A state championship.
“We should not have lost to Bunker Hill,” Jackson said. “I hate to say this, but some were looking ahead to playing Lexington again.”
Jackson’s senior year the Cavs came back to earth at 7-3, but he churned for a county-best 1,060 yards.
Jackson was only 5-foot-8, 185 pounds, but his speed attracted recruiters from ACC and Big Ten schools. Jackson expected to sign with UNC head coach Dick Crum, but it didn’t happen.
“The recruiting process kind of overwhelmed me,” Jackson said. “I was getting hand-written letters from everywhere, but then Carolina never got around to sending that offer. Then time was running out, and I kind of panicked and signed with Western Carolina. I’d never imagined myself in the Southern Conference.”
There were highlights during Jackson’s time in Cullowhee. As a freshman, he was supposed to be a body on the depth chart, but when starter David Mayfield broke a wrist in a scrimmage, Jackson was suddenly sharing time at tailback.
He produced two monster games ó 191 yards against East Tennessee State and 200 against Mars Hill. He scored seven TDs that year.
“When a teammate told me I had 200 yards in the Mars Hill game, I was flabbergasted,” Jackson said. “I never had a 200-yard game in high school.”
At Western, Jackson was coached by Bob Waters, a legend dying slowly of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease) but still coaching the Catamounts from a wheelchair.
“There was no way any player on that team could have any excuse about not giving it all,” Jackson said. “Not when Coach was giving his all just to be at practice.”
Waters died in 1989, three months after giving up the reins of his football team.
He was 50.
Jackson wasn’t around to around to witness the end of Waters’ struggle. He left school his sophomore year.
“I had a little success on the field, but I wasn’t adapting well to the school,” Jackson said.
Still, Jackson had learned a lot from Thomason and Waters and wanted to prove something to himself.
“I wanted to do something that I knew I couldn’t quit so I went into the Navy on a two-year college program,” he said. “I served on the (aircraft carrier U.S.S.) Enterprise. I can’t say I liked the Navy. I can say it was what I needed.”
Jackson received his honorable discharge and came home. He discussed an athletic comeback with Livingstone and North Carolina A&T, but his heart no longer belonged to the gridiron.
He accepted a job at Kimberly-Clark, a plant in Lexington known for the production of household staples such as Huggies and Kleenex.
“It was a good job,” Jackson said. “I’m still there.”
Still, it wasn’t easy lecturing his sons on the value of education when he hadn’t stayed the course at Western. He gave himself credibility by returning to college as a 30-something.
In 2007, he earned a diploma from Catawba in business administration. That masters is next, and he’s going after it with the same determination he once brought to third-and-goal.
Jackson is proud of his sons ó Darryl Jr., a junior who starts at corner for the Cavs, and Desmond, a freshman jayvee with potential.
Darryl Jr. wears the green No. 23 his father once made famous.
“Yeah, I kinda urged that,” Jackson said. “The kid really worked this summer. I want good things to happen for him and the team.”
Everything turns with time, and it’s a brand new season for the Cavaliers.