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In his father's footsteps--sort of

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JF soccer standout Jackson headed to Annapolis

By John Barnhart

Like his father, Shawn, David Jackson will attend a service academy when he heads off to college following his graduation from Jefferson Forest High School this year.

Shawn Jackson graduated from West Point and served seven years in the Army as a Black Hawk helicopter pilot and Black Hawk instructor. He was a flight instructor at the time of the Persian Gulf War in 1991.

Also like his father, the younger Jackson plans to major in engineering. He said that his favorite course in high school has been calculus. He really loves math and notes that engineering (he’s thinking of either mechanical or nuclear engineering) provides a lot of career opportunities.

“It’s really cool what you can do with math and science,” he said.

Unlike his father, he will be wearing a uniform of a different color. He will report to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis on July 1for Plebe Summer, a session before the start of the academic year, during which they make life miserable for the incoming freshmen.

Actually, he could have gone to West Point. He got an appointment to West Point via Congressman Bob Goodlatte and the appointment to Annapolis from Senator John Warner. Getting  a service academy appointment via a senator is more difficult than going through a congressman, because the high school student’s competitors come from all over the state, rather than just within the congressional district. Getting two service academy appointments is unusual.

The application process took a year. Jackson had to write a lot of essays. There was also a medical test and a physical fitness test.

Jackson said that he had always wanted to attend one of the service academies and sought appointments to both West Point and Annapolis to increase his chances of success. He learned that he had been appointed to West Point in February. Then, in March, he learned he had been appointed to Annapolis.

“I was very excited,” he commented.

Along with that thrill, there was a decision to make.

“I knew I was faced with a tough choice, “ he said.

He ultimately chose Navy because, along with calculus, he loves soccer. 

The sport seems to love him right back.  Jackson was selected to the first teams of both the All-Seminole District and All-Region III teams last year

The high-scoring Jackson (18 goals, 14 assists, 50 points) was also named to the second unit of the All-State team.

Jackson said that Annapolis’ soccer coach, Dave Brandt, is one of the top soccer coaches in the country. 

“He’s the winningest NCAA coach right now,” Jackson said.  Brandt, who took over at Annapolis this season, had compiled a record of 246-26-12 at Messiah College, where he won six Division III national championships during his twelve seasons.

Brandt seemed excited at the prospect of Jackson joining the Middies, although he never had the chance to scout him personally, having just come on board at Navy in January.

“I’m looking for three things,” said Brandt.  “Quickness, intelligence and good technical skills.  David scores highly in all three.”

Brandt is in the midst of introducing a fast-paced and complex offense that will have three forwards on the attack.  Jackson’s skills could well have him playing on the flank of that attack, as Navy seeks to move up in the Patriot League (D1) standings.

Jackson had already visited both academies. After a talk with Brandt, he chose Navy.  

He also plays travel soccer league in the fall. He said that most players who are recruited by college soccer teams are recruited from these travel leagues. 

“I was excited for him,” said his father. “I fully supported him going to Annapolis.”

Shawn Jackson could also see an advantage to David’s choice.   Annapolis is closer to Bedford County than is West Point. That will make it easier for him, and his wife Mandy, to visit their son.

Jackson believes that his experience as a high school athlete will help him at a service academy, as well as Plebe Summer.

“I’ve heard it’s very stressful, long days,” he said. “It will be a good experience, at least.”

Jackson is thinking of entering Naval aviation as a fighter pilot. He believes flying an F-18, controlling a fast fighter and being responsible for such an expensive piece of equipment would be exciting.

Another possibility would be service as a nuclear engineer, although not in submarines. The Naval Academy also produces officers for the Marine Corps, which is part of the Navy, so service as a Marine officer is possible.

He’s not sure yet whether the military will be his career, although he considers that an open option.

“I haven’t experienced what it’s really like,” he said.

Shawn Jackson said that, overall, his seven years as an Army officer was a positive in his life. It also provided an historic perspective. He was stationed in Germany, near Fulda, when the Berlin Wall came down. 

“That was an exciting time,” he said.

Shawn Jackson also met his wife while in the service. He was stationed in Germany and she was visiting that country as an English tourist.

“Her whole side of the family lives there [in England],” he said noting that they travel there frequently for visits. Father and son are, again, alike in that they both suffer from jet lag on these trips.

David Jackson said that his father’s years at West Point and in the Army influenced him in his decision to seek a service academy appointment.

“That’s where I picked up the idea to go to one of them,” he said.

Army and Navy traditionally square off in the final soccer match of the season.

It’s a reasonable bet that Shawn will be cheering for Navy in that game, something that would have been unthinkable back in the days  when he was a cadet at West Point.