D’Angelo Jackson is no stranger to playing on a successful football team.
The now back-to-back Yuma Sun/Yuma Rotary Club Defensive Player of the Year transferred from Centennial after his sophomore season, in which he helped contribute a 5A State Championship to the school.
Last season, Jackson tried revamping the culture in the Gila Ridge football program. In his final year as a linebacker in the Yuma area, Jackson challenged his teammates to become champions.
“I just wanted us to practice harder and harder each day,” he said.
However, early in the season, some of the guys didn’t quite understand why practices were so demanding.
“Some of the guys questioned it,” coach John Ellegood said. “They were like, ‘Hey, we had a lot of success last year, why are we practicing so much harder?’ Then D’Angelo stepped up and told his team that they needed to practice even harder. Having someone like that to back up what my coaches, and myself, wanted to do was huge.
“Not necessarily was he huge in that from a vocal standpoint, but it was more, ‘I’m going to show you how to do it and you’re going to follow.’”
The increased intensity in practice transpired into the best finish in school history after posting an 11-2 record and appearing in the 4A semifinals.
“It felt great,” Jackson said about contributing to Gila Ridge’s best season. “We went from 6-4 last year to 11-2 this year and looking at those numbers and last year’s team, that’s a lot to be proud of. We accomplished a lot of goals.”
Jackson led the defense with his ferocious hitting and ability to force game-changing plays. The 6-foot-4, 220-pound versatile linebacker finished his season with 118 total tackles (76 solo), three sacks, two interceptions and one forced fumble.
“D’Angelo is very smart football wise,” Ellegood said. “He’s very good at reading the offensive line and has instincts that you really can’t coach. Having him in the middle of the defense and being able to control and talk to everybody on the defense is absolutely huge and, honestly, offenses have to game plan for him.”
The Hawks pounced on opposing offenses every Friday night en route to their best finish in program history. Their willingness to provide big hits ignited the 11-men on defense.
“We just love flying around and hitting,” Jackson said. “Every player on every level loves to hit and we love hitting you.”
The next chapter for Jackson’s football career remains up in the air.
Jackson is keeping his eyes on Nevada, Utah, Oregon State, San Diego State, Baylor and Wyoming as the recruiting season comes to an end.
He plans on visiting five schools before the recruiting process concludes.