CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — Virginia’s green, plush, beautiful palette is home to American icons Thomas Jefferson, Robert E. Lee, James Madison and George Washington. It’s a state that's brought us tennis star Arthur Ashe; actors Warren Beatty, George Scott, Shirley MacLaine; and legendary golfer Sam Snead.
On Saturday, Virginia beckons BYU football players to Scott Stadium for a game against the University of Virginia.
It was after midnight in the Richmond International Airport Thursday night when a tall mammoth of a man bellied up to the Hertz Rent-a-Car counter a few folks ahead of me.
Turns out it was Scott Jackson, a former BYU center who spent five years in the NFL with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Houston Texans after leaving Provo in 2003. An MBA graduate of the University of Virginia, Jackson made the trip to Charlottesville to watch the Cougars and Cavs. “I can’t lose on this one,” said Jackson, who now lives in Houston.
I made arrangements to talk to Jackson on Friday, sandwiched between his conference calls as a consultant for the Boston Consulting Group, and meeting with his friends around town. Another BYU player, former safety Kellen Fowler, also is a University of Virginia graduate and has made this trip. Fowler, now in Dallas, also works for the same company.
“I just love the area and that’s what attracted me to go to school here,” said Jackson.
He confessed he is to blame for his youngest sibling, Lauren, enrolling at Virginia as a freshman this month as a Jefferson Scholar. Lauren is the only member of the Jackson family (parents, Scott and three other siblings) to not attend BYU. “Lauren will be in the Virginia student section cheering them on and I’ll be in the BYU visitor section. My sister Katie and brother Robbie will also be in town for the game.”
Aside from the beauty of the campus and Virginia countryside, Jackson chose Virginia because, like BYU, it has an honor code. While BYU’s honor code is run by administrators, it is operated by students at Virginia.
“It is an honor code that students sign that they can be trusted. If you take a test, at the end of it, you sign that you did not cheat. If you are caught cheating, you can be expelled,” said Jackson. “It is the students who sit in judgment and decide the fate of those who break the code and in some ways, it is more strict than BYU.”
The debut of BYU’s “go fast, go hard” offense is intriguing to Jackson.
Come gameday, Jackson said he’s especially interested in BYU’s offensive line. Offensive coordinator Robert Anae has installed zone blocking schemes since taking over last winter, schemes Jackson ran while blocking for the Houston Texans.
“I’ll be critiquing them.”
Jackson said he was undersized in the NFL at 295 to 300 pounds. But he was fast.
“With zone blocking, you aren’t trying to displace someone with brute force. You try to take them with you and when you can, cut to create those holes.”
With a running back that patiently waits, the veteran lineman said if you get the system going and everyone moves together and one person makes the cut it can be incredibly successful.
“You can stretch the field and establish play-action. The defense can’t distinguish between the run and play-action blocking as much as you can with other schemes. You get a lot of deep balls out of it.”
He saw that with Texans QB Matt Schaub, who is, coincidently, a Virginia grad.
Jackson said if BYU’s linemen are mobile and quick enough and can move together to get that cut at the right time, defenses run all over the place trying to figure it out.
It is interesting that BYU has brought as many as 10 offensive linemen for this opener. There’s been talk of platooning O-linemen. Some wonder if that is possible at such an important unit.
“If it’s early, you can,” said Jackson. “If the offensive line hasn’t jelled yet, it is the right time to do some substituting rather than later in the season. It adds a complexity to the system to substitute a lot. If you have a couple of good pieces who can communicate to others, it helps. The idea of going fast and hard and being so quick can also be a reason they might try this and it makes sense.”
Jackson said the zone blocking doesn’t require the line to put together so many complex combinations for blocking and it doesn’t take as much time evaluating a defense. “You can go quick because it is simple.”
Well, we shall see.
Scott Jackson lives in Sugarland, Texas, the southwest area of Houston where BYU Hall of Famer Gifford Nielsen built his nest. Jackson and his wife Ashley have four sons: Tyler, 8, Joel, 6, Luke, 5, and 4-month old Brooks.
“One of them is an offensive lineman,” said Scott. “The rest we’re still trying to put out a scouting report on them.”
When the time comes, the first Jackson boys recruiting tapes must surely be postmarked to Provo and Charlottesville.
Dick Harmon, Deseret News sports columnist, can be found on Twitter as Harmonwrites and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.