When St. Ambrose needed a big play last week, Jeremiah Jackson Sr. was there to step up.
Jackson was all over the field against Missouri Baptist, making eight tackles and intercepting two passes, returning one for a 61-yard touchdown to help the Fighting Bees grab a 45-37 season-opening win over the Spartans.
Jackson was named the Mid-States Football Association Midwest League defensive player of the week for his efforts, a strong way for the defensive back start his senior season.
"There's always room for improvement," Jackson said. "This week, work harder, got an even tougher opponent. Just want to improve to get better on my performance from last week."
Jackson and the defense will be tested Saturday, taking on seventh-ranked Marian (Ind.). The Bees have struggled to keep things competitive in their first two meetings with the Knights, losing by a combined score of 113-24, including a 52-0 drubbing Jackson was a part of last year.
"Looking back on last year, how bad they beat us, you always have that chip on your shoulder, get that back and get the 'W,'" Jackson said. "Last year, we weren't ready, we weren't mentally or physically prepared to play a game that day, I guess."
St. Ambrose needs to be ready against a Marian team that piled up 547 yards of offense in last year's matchup, exploiting the Fighting Bees' defense for much of the day.
While there's plenty of pride to win the game Saturday, football isn't the biggest thing in Jackson's life. He has three children: Jeremiah Jr., 3, and Jabreal and Jermial, both 1.
"It's a lot of time management," said Jackson, 21. "I've had to get older and prove it, not just for me, but for my children. It's not just me I'm relying on. Others are relying on me as well."
Jackson had his first child when he was 17, and that led to him originally accepting an offer to play at Waldorf University in Forest City, Iowa. It was a long way from his hometown of Pensacola, Florida, but the chance was one he couldn't pass up, though he transferred to St. Ambrose two years ago.
"Out of high school, I went to Waldorf because I just had a baby and they were offering school, I got a job to make money and I jumped at the opportunity," Jackson said. "Things didn't work out there, and I found an even better home here."
While at Waldorf, Jackson was teammates with current St. Ambrose wide receivers coach LaMont Johnson and also played a game against Kansas Wesleyan, where current St. Ambrose defensive coordinator Vince Fillipp was serving in the same role.
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It helped make the transition to Davenport easier and also helped the coaching staff figure out what kind of player they were getting as Jackson wasn't even on the Fighting Bees' radar coming out of high school.
"We knew he was a defensive back, a pretty good athlete but really had no idea what type of person he was," St. Ambrose head coach Mike Magistrelli said. "He comes in with a little different situation than your typical college kid, but you wouldn't know it when you talk to him. He's got a lot on his plate, and I'm really proud of him for getting his education and finishing school. I can only imagine what he goes through."
While he's in school, Jackson's children remain at home in Florida. He won't see them again until Christmas break, though he does talk to them nearly every day.
Being away from his family for several months at a time is tough, but Jackson is working to provide for them, currently majoring in business management and administration with a minor in public relations. When he's not in football season, he also works part time at FedEx.
"It's hard, but I'm away doing what's best for us as a whole, not just for me as an individual," he said. "They won't have any excuses when they're my age, I did it while you all were young."
Jackson's journey shows the value in NAIA sports, which can give scholarship money to players that get overlooked by the bigger schools. For Jackson, it's an opportunity he doesn't take for granted.
"Where I'm from, there's a lot of great talent that don't make it because you either don't go to school or you go big time D-I," he said. "It's great to allow people to showcase their talents across the nation. ... It's very valuable, to get an education anywhere in the United States."
Despite having to balance so much, Jackson remains upbeat and lively, helping bring excitement to the football field.
"He is as enjoyable a guy to be around," Magistrelli said. "Everybody has bad days, (but) you wouldn't know it with him. He's always upbeat, has a smile on his face and loves to compete. ... He's been a great addition."
And, like Jackson demonstrated last week, he also has a knack for making the big play.
"Football is a love I've had since I was a little kid," Jackson said. "Being able to go do something and show the best of my abilities and show my talent and how hard I work, it's just a blessing from God to be able to play the sport."