TULSA — Tulsa linebacker Shawn Jackson breaks into a grin when asked about his physique.
At 6-foot, 255 pounds, the senior is hardly one to intimidate opponents and he knows it.
“I get second glances, but I don’t pay it (any) mind,” Jackson said. “I know what I can do, what I’m capable of and the coaches know. I just play my game. I like surprising people. I’ve had some games where opposing players say to me you move pretty good for a big kid. That’s a compliment.”
Jackson anticipates he will receive those same stares and comments Saturday when the Golden Hurricane visits No. 14 Oklahoma (2-0), a measuring stick for a Tulsa team still smarting from a season-opening loss at Bowling Green. The Golden Hurricane (1-1) rebounded with a win over Colorado State last week, but they’ll face another difficult test on Saturday against the Sooners.
Jackson missed the first three games last season while serving a suspension due to a violation of team rules. The missed time didn’t keep him from leading a defense that finished with a school-record 53 sacks, second in the nation.
It did leave him with something to prove.
His priority on Saturday will be helping to stop an Oklahoma rushing attack that has averaged 310 yards through its first two games.
“We know those guys can run the ball well,” Jackson said. “We know we have to be a better team going forward on defense and that starts with the linebackers because we are the veteran group on defense. We understand we will be judged on this game. That’s OK.”
Jackson arrived at Tulsa after a standout two-sport prep career at nearby Tulsa McLain High School.
Golden Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship recruited Jackson while he was an assistant coach at Tulsa, and he remembers several Southeastern Conference schools were initially high on Jackson before backing off because of a delay in test scores — as well as his size. It wasn’t until Blankenship attended one of McLain high school basketball games that he fully began to understand Jackson’s athleticism.
“I thought, ‘This is crazy. That little fat guy is the point guard,”’ Blankenship said. “They couldn’t take the ball away from him. I happened to know all three of the referees. One of them told me he’s a beast. He said Shawn was one of the best athletes in the city. I remember asking him, ‘Are you sure we’re talking about the same kid?’ So I began researching. It didn’t take long to make me a believer.”
Blankenship recruited Jackson as an athlete, and by his first spring at Tulsa the coaches could see how well his tackling instincts would serve him at linebacker, regardless of his size.
“When he walks out of a locker room or off a bus I don’t think anyone looks at him and feels intimidated,” Blankenship said. “But for his size, he can really run. He just finds ways to make plays.”
Jackson, a starter since his freshman season, enters Saturday’s game with 287 career tackles. He needs 41 tackles to surpass Nick Bunting and move into 10th place on the school’s career tackles list.
He is closing in on two other milestones — career tackles for loss and career sacks. Jackson, with 38.5 tackles for losses, needs two tackles for loss to eclipse the school record of 40 shared by Don Blackmon (1976-80) and Sam Rayburn (1992-2002). With three more sacks, Jackson would become the school’s career leader with 21, surpassing Dennis Byrd (1985-88) and Sedrick Clark (1992-95).
Neither record is out of the realm of possibility after a junior year in which he had 10.5 tackles for losses and five sacks despite missing the three games.
Blankenship, for one, is watching the record lists closely and enjoying every minute of Jackson’s success.
“It’s fun for me,” Blankenship said. “Even with the recruiting that went on and because of his body, there were a lot of questions as to whether it was a good decision for us to recruit him. It’s one of the most satisfying moments for me to watch his success and to know that he has really developed into being a premier player.”