PREP FOOTBALL: Jackson brings more than experience back to Opelika | Opelika-Auburn News
With former defensive line coach Steve Coker taking the top job at LaFayette, Brian Blackmon and the Opelika Bulldogs are turning to someone who knows a little something about the defensive line to take over.
He also happens to be someone who knows a little something about Opelika.
T.J. Jackson is returning to Bulldog Stadium this year, though this time it will be outside the lines, working with Opelika’s front four.
Jackson was a two-time All-State defensive lineman for the Bulldogs, a first-team All-SEC performer for Auburn University and spent parts of three seasons with the Atlanta Falcons and Kansas City Chiefs.
He’s never coached before. But Blackmon said you wouldn’t know that from seeing him in action.
“He brings a great level of intensity,” Opelika’s second-year head coach said. “He kind of coaches the way he played, and he’s picked up all our guys’ intensity with it.”
Jackson grabs the reins of a talented, experienced group, one that should be the bedrock of an improved Bulldogs defense.
Caleb Lawrence — a senior three-year starter — and rising junior Jamarlo Alford will man the middle of the line.
Lawrence, at 5-foot-11, 260 pounds, was overmatched with double- and triple-teams at times in Opelika’s 3-4 last year. Alford (6-1, 240), along with a switch to the 4-3, should help free him up.
The tackles’ play will also help the ends — senior Tyler Peppers and junior Torey Agee — work. Blackmon said Peppers (6-3, 235) is getting some interest from smaller D-I schools, and Agee (6-4, 245) has the size and pedigree to be a prize recruit next year.
And neither of them have to look far to see what a little hard work on top of some size and talent can get them.
“The credibility that (Jackson) brings with the kids. They see that he played in the NFL, at the college level, and he started here in Opelika,” Blackmon said. “He’s doing an outstanding job.”
Even with the graduation of Alabama-bound Corey Grant and a bevy of playmakers, things also appear to be looking up on the offensive end.
The main reason for Blackmon’s optimism is the healthy return of junior quarterback Dalton Pritchett, who played through a series of concussion and shoulder issues last season.
Like he had last season with Grant, Pritchett will also have a feature back in Cameron Hill — little brother of former Opelika and Auburn
University defensive lineman Tez Doolittle — to attract some of the defense’s attention.
The offensive line, which struggled with its size last season, is also another year bigger and experienced, and will be built around 6-5, 250-pound tackle LaDarius Chatmon.
And Pritchett will have a receiving corps that includes former quarterback platoon partner Braden Rogers.
“Dalton’s really solidified himself as the No. 1 guy,” Blackmon said. “He’s getting a little better every day. The biggest difference from last season is his maturity level. He’s focused on learning the offense and getting better.
Opelika concludes its spring season with an intrasquad game tonight at 5:30.