FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — When Colton Jackson was in high school, the prevailing belief among recruiting pundits was that he could either become a key cog for a mid-major college program or sit on the bubble fighting for playing time at a Power 5 school.
By the time he was a redshirt freshman at Arkansas last season, Jackson was exceeding those projections. The former Conway High standout was the Razorbacks’ starting right tackle when the season began.
The good times, however, didn’t last. Jackson started the first three games of the season before losing the first-string job to sophomore Brian Wallace.
A lesser man might have lost confidence, a fickle trait when you’re 20 years old.
But that never happened. On the contrary, Jackson’s confidence has grown.
Six months after losing his starting spot to Wallace, Jackson enters his sophomore season as the starting left tackle for Arkansas, charged with protecting quarterback Austin Allen’s blind side.
How did he do it?
“Mental toughness going through stuff like that,” Jackson said. “Not giving up, pushing forward and turning a negative into a positive and just being tough.”
Easier said than done. No one likes demotions. Arkansas’ offensive line struggled to protect Allen, and Jackson was criticized. But Allen continued to be heavily battered after Jackson’s benching. In total, Razorbacks quarterbacks were sacked 35 times last season, which ranked 106th in the nation.
Jackson said losing his starting job last season was “embarrassing.”
“Everybody at home, everybody here is expecting you to start, all this stuff, and then you’re starting, and the next game you’re not starting,” he said. “Then the next game, next game. People are asking what happened. You don’t want to tell people, ‘Oh, I got my spot taken.’ Nobody wants that to happen.”
Arkansas returns four of five starters on the offensive line. Jackson is the only new one. He has experience, though, which is part of the reason some prognosticators think the offensive line could transform from a deficiency to a strength in 2017. It helps to play with Frank Ragnow, arguably the best center in the nation, but Jackson’s performance will be crucial to keeping Allen upright.
Jackson weathered the storm last season. Now he’s confident he can be a rock on the Hogs’ front.
“When it first happened, I was so destroyed inside,” he said. “I thought I had it. I thought I was right there, and then all of a sudden, it didn’t go my way. When stuff like that happens, you’ve just got to sit back and analyze what you were doing wrong, what you can do better and then bounce back. That’s what I’m doing this year.”