In a tailback depth chart loaded with experience and talent at the beginning of this season, redshirt freshman Deonte Jackson has made a meteoric rise to the top. The chart includes senior Brian Flowers, a JC Gridwire All-American before arriving at Idaho last season who led the Vandals in rushing last fall. The chart also includes redshirt junior Jayson Bird, a bruising Idaho native who gained over 850 yards as a true freshman in 2004 while earning second team All-Sun Belt honors in the process.
And, to top it off, add freshman recruit Corey White out of Las Vegas, an exceptional talent considered to be among the top signees in the WAC this past spring.
Despite this stable of talent, the name mentioned most frequently during spring drills and fall camp was that of redshirt freshman Deonte Jackson, a walkon who quietly joined the Vandal program last fall (with then-head coach Dennis Erickson) with very little fan-fare or hype.
So much for hype.
There was much talk during Jackson's redshirt season last year that he was a budding talent for the Vandals. Now we're learning why.
Deonte is currently the nation's No. 1 freshman tailback, averaging an impressive 116.13 yards rushing per game. The mark ranks him 15th in the country overall, behind Jevon Ringer of Michigan State (13th, 122.63) and Marcus Thomas of UTEP (14th, 118.00), and just ahead of Justin Forsett of California (16th, 115.86) and Rashard Mendenhall of Illinois (17th, 115.50). Two juniors, and two seniors.
His rushing average also is tops in the WAC, nudging out Luke Lippincott of Nevada, who is averaging 113.67 yards per game. With the Vandals visiting Nevada this Saturday, fans of the running game for both teams should see plenty of fireworks.
For the season, through the first eight games Deonte has rushed for 100 yards or more five times. In addition, he has rushed for 90 yards or more seven times, including 99 yards against USC in the season-opener, and 94 against San Jose State. He also set a UI Freshman record with 214 yards rushing against Cal Poly in Week Two. Against Fresno State he averaged almost 10 yards per carry (109 yards on 11 rushes), and last week he gained 145 yards on the road against New Mexico State.
Overall, with four games left, Deonte has gained 929 yards and scored five touchdowns (Flowers has 206 yards while missing much of the first part of the season; Bird has 116 yards rushing while playing a variety of positions - including some H-Back).
Jackson would be the first to acknowledge the play of the hosses up front, and for good reason - as a group they've been gaining praise throughout the season and at times have been exceptional.
But anyone that has seen Jackson play this season will quickly acknowledge the speed with which he can make a cut, turn on a dime, find a seam, elude tacklers, run through tacklers, play through pain, take a shot, deliver a shot, and accelerate through no more than a sliver of an opening.
His performance this season has been remarkable, and as this young team continues to mature around him (two freshmen quarterbacks, three freshmen receivers, and a line that should return all five starters), he has the potential to rewrite the Idaho record books.