“He started with special teams and got a few plays here and there on offense,” wide receivers coach Gunter Brewer said. “And the good Lord shined on him and gave him opportunities in a game to make some plays and was put in those positions, and he came up with them.”
As a senior next season, the opportunities will only continue to increase. This year, he was tied for sixth on the team in catches (16). But North Carolina will lose seniors Bug Howard, Ryan Switzer, T.J. Logan and Hollins to graduation this offseason, and the Tar Heels could lose Elijah Hood and Mitch Trubisky to the NFL Draft.
All that veteran talent at the skill positions sets up well coming into this season, but it’s a major challenge for the coaching staff and players to try to replace it all come next fall. North Carolina’s bowl practices, and spring ball next semester, will be extremely important to groom new players to take over as playmakers.
“We try to get as many reps with our young guys as possible,” Coach Larry Fedora said. “You are trying to steal reps for spring practice."
The coaches know that, at the very least, they have an incredibly hard worker in Jackson. Brewer isn’t sure whether Jackson can take that next step into becoming an every-down, starting wide receiver, but he is hopeful.
“That’s the process of creating time where he can work himself into a larger role," Brewer said. "And I think if hard work has anything to do with it, he’ll accomplish that."
Jackson said his limited playing time this season illuminated some of the things he needs to work on in the offseason. He’s excited about getting to work and understands what he has to do.
“I definitely think next year I’m going to have to step my game up for sure, to fill the shoes of Switz, Bug, Mitch, depending on what he does,” he said. “I’m ready for it. I’m excited.”