He might not have the moves or speed of a former Belleville Althoff Catholic (Ill.) High School player who suited up for Illinois.
But you can bet Althoff senior Merrick Jackson would like to emulate former Althoff star and former Illinois running back Jason Ford.
The mammoth defensive tackle — the Illinois commit checks in at 6 feet, 3 inches, and 340 pounds — is used at times in the Crusaders' goal-line package as a fullback. If Althoff (8-3) gets near the end zone against Casey-Westfield High School (11-0) during Saturday night's Class 2A quarterfinal playoff game in Belleville, you might see Althoff head coach Ken Turner trot out Jackson.
"We try to keep him fresh for defense, but as a fullback, it's great for a running back because everybody gets out of the way or he gets them out of the way," Turner said. "We've got a good goal-line package for him. He really enjoys it. Of course, he wants the hand-off."
Turner chuckled after he said that last part, but Jackson has shown his play-making skills when he's not bogging down opponents defensively.
Aside from his 59 tackles that include a team-best 15 for loss, Jackson returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown in Althoff's season-opening 20-13 win against Collinsville High School.
"It was pretty cool to see a guy like that pick a screen off, catch it with his hands and then take it to the house," Turner said. "He actually stiff-armed a guy as he was going into the end zone. He's a pretty athletic guy."
Jackson's play also helps some of his other defensive teammates, notably senior linebacker Erik Furmanek, a one-time Illinois recruiting target who has compiled a team-high 138 tackles.
"When you've got a big guy like that that can plug the middle and take the double teams and triple teams so our linebackers can roam free, he's very important because of what he can command in the middle," Turner said. "He's going through a lot of chop blocks and just double and triple teams. To be honest with you, it's nothing he didn't see last year. He's handling it well. He's learning how to get away from and get through those chop blocks. He's becoming better at it because he's seeing it a lot more."
Once Jackson's senior season ends, he'll spend the winter in the weight room while also making sure he keeps his weight under control before he arrives in Champaign-Urbana this summer.
But Jackson still has at least one more game left with the Crusaders, and possibly two more. The final one would be played at his future college home stadium, Memorial Stadium in Champaign, at 1 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 23 in the 2A state championship game.
Althoff has a stout football tradition in Illinois, with the Crusaders having won three state championships.
But until this year, Althoff had not advanced to the quarterfinals since 2004 and has not played in a state championship game since the 1990 team won the 3A title.
Jackson has played a big part (no pun intended) in putting Althoff in its current position, both on offense and defense.
And even with Illinois struggling to a 2-7 record heading into Saturday's home game against Minnesota, don't expect Jackson to back away from his verbal he gave to Illinois head coach Tim Beckman last spring.
"He's very solid on his commitment to Illinois," Turner said. "He loves the coaching staff. Hopefully everything works out when he gets there and he can enjoy being an Illini."