By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Alaric Jackson is doing what very few Iowa offensive linemen have done under Kirk Ferentz.
Jackson isn’t just starting as a redshirt freshman, he is starting at left tackle and protecting quarterback Nate Stanley’s blindside.
An injury to senior Boone Myers during training camp helped the 6-foot-7, 320-pound Jackson climb the depth chart. But it took more than somebody else’s misfortune for Jackson to earn a starting position so early in his career.
It took hard work, talent, focus and consistency.
Jackson was considered a huge piece of the future on the offensive line, literally and figuratively, when the season started. But it turns out the future is now.
The Detroit native has held his own in the trenches as part of a veteran Iowa offensive line.
Jackson is the new kid up front for an offensive line that returned four starters from a group that won the Joe Moore Award last season as the nation's top collegiate offensive line.
However, one of the starters, senior right tackle Ike Boettger, reportedly suffered an achilles injury against Iowa State and isn't listed on this week's depth chart, which was released on Monday.
Senior Sean Welsh is now listed as the starter at right tackle after starting the first two games at right guard. Welsh also started seven games as a redshirt freshman in 2014, so he can sort of relate to Jackson's situation.
Jackson is surrounded by veteran players on the offensive line and they have helped him adjust to his new role.
At some point, though, it comes down to talent and performance and Jackson has delivered in both cases.
He moves well laterally for somebody his size, which is key in protecting his quarterback. Jackson also has the size and strength that helps to create a surge up front for the running game.
His background as a multisport athlete at Renaissance High School in Detroit is paying dividends now in football. Jackson was busy year-round in high school as a five-sport athlete.
In addition to football, Jackson also participated in basketball, soccer, baseball and track and field in high school.
Basketball was his first love. He started playing at the age of 4 and didn’t start playing football until his junior year of high school.
But it was during his junior year that Jackson started to favor football, and Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh deserves some credit for shifting Jackson’s focus away from basketball.
Jackson started to think his future was in football after Harbaugh attended one of Jackson’s high school football games during his junior season.
“That really changed me” Jackson told the Detroit News. “I found myself watching more film for football, lifting weights harder than I used to, going to more football games and asking questions.”
Harbaugh reportedly offered Jackson a scholarship very late in the recruiting process, and Jackson was tempted to commit because an offer from Michigan is always a big deal for a kid from Detroit.
The offer caused Jackson to weigh all his options and he ultimately picked Iowa for several reasons, including his friendship with current Hawkeye teammates and fellow Detroit-area natives Cedrick Lattimore and Chauncey Golston.
Jackson also liked the family atmosphere at Iowa and it helped that Iowa was coming off a 12-2 season in 2015.
It’s hard to argue with Jackson’s decision right now, with him starting at what is considered the highest profile position on the offensive line as a redshirt freshman, and with Iowa 2-0 heading into Saturday’s game against North Texas at Kinnick Stadium.
Lattimore also starts at defensive tackle as a second-year sophomore, while Golston provides depth at defensive end, which is one of the deepest positions on the team.
Jackson already has had two offensive line coaches during his brief time as a Hawkeye. Brian Ferentz had coached the offensive line since 2012 before being promoted to offensive coordinator shortly after last season.
Former North Dakota State offensive coordinator Tim Polasek is the new offensive line coach.
He inherited a vetern group in February, but that veteran group now has a redshirt freshman starting at left tackle.
The future certainly looks bright for Alaric Jackson, with him having three years of eligibility after this season. But the present looks pretty good, too.