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Football: Freshman proves special

Laura Myers | Thursday, October 7, 2010

Freshman receiver Bennett Jackson made a name for himself when he made three tackles on special teams against Purdue on Sept. 4. On Saturday, he took another step when he returned four kickoffs for 111 yards in Notre Dame’s 31-13 defeat of Boston College.

The yardage included his 43-yard return at the start of the game that allowed Notre Dame to open its drive on the 50 yard-line.

“I didn’t really have too much of a thought process,” Jackson said. “I just saw a gap and hit the gap and kept moving. … I was excited. The guys were excited. We got great field position.”

Jackson is the fourth Irish player to return kicks this season. Sophomore running back Cierre Wood took most of the kicks through the first four games, and averaged 19.9 yards per return. Irish coach Brian Kelly said he and special teams coach Mike Elston decided it was time for a change, and turned to Jackson.

“I had not cleared that hurdle in my own mind that I was ready to go in that direction,” Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference. “Once we did, he practiced at it hard on Wednesday and Thursday and was prepared for his chance on Saturday.”

Returning kicks is a mental exercise, Kelly said, and Jackson has the right mentality to do it well.

“You’ve got 11 guys running downfield real fast with equipment on, and if you’re thinking about that, you’re probably going to be slow out of the gates,” Kelly said. “You’ve got to hit it, and he’s got that ability where he’s a bit fearless from that standpoint. So it takes a different kind of guy to do that.”

Jackson also pointed to fearlessness as a key aspect of returning.

“You just have to read your blocks and work hard in practice and go,” he said. “You can’t be scared to take a hit. You have to run full speed and hit the hole.”

For Jackson, “full speed” means very fast. He was New Jersey state champion in the 110-meter hurdles in his senior year, and cracked the 14-second mark in the race more than once. He said he might be one of the fastest players on the team.

“I’m up there,” Jackson said. “I would think that I am, but I don’t know. There are a few guys that are up there too.”

In fact, he would like to run track for Notre Dame — if Kelly will let him.

“I would like to, but I’d have to ask coach,” he said.

For now, though, Jackson is focused on returning kicks, with the possibility of getting in the game at receiver. He currently practices as an outside receiver behind freshman TJ Jones.

“I think I have a good work ethic and if I keep working I’ll get [to wide receiver] eventually,” he said. “I enjoy special teams. It is something to do on the field. Later on in my career I am sure I’ll get a chance at receiver if I’m ready.”