By Caleb Slinkard
Commerce’s Al Jackson is a senior wide receiver/defensive back, a former all-district selection who helps anchor a team that has had a lot to overcome this season. But wins and losses were the last thing on anyone’s mind Friday night during the Tigers’ homecoming game against Howe, following a collision that left Jackson motionless on the ground.
“I played football for 13 years and I’ve coached for more than 20, and I’ve never seen anything like that before,” Tigers Head Coach Scott Wells said. “We were all scared and worried sick for him. It puts everything in perspective.”
Jackson attempted to tackle a Howe ball carrier, but the angle he took caused the Howe players’ knee to go right into his neck.
“The hit forced his chin forward to his chest, causing a burst fracture of the C5 vertebrae, breaking the small bones in his chest and bruising his spinal chord,” his mother Teri Miller said.
He was careflighted to Plano Medical Center and underwent surgery Saturday morning that fused his C3-C6 vertebrae and cleaned up some tissue and muscle damage. Jackson’s condition improved on Sunday, and early this week he began slowly walking again with the aid of a walker. He will undergo six weeks of occupational therapy before he is reevaluated.
“Because of his will alone, he’s already pushed himself ahead of where anyone could fathom he would be,” Miller said. “If the doctors tell him to do something, he does it to the point of exhaustion.”
Jackson will never play football again, but he does hope to play basketball. According to Miller, that motivation is important to his recovery.
“With every obstacle he’s faced, without a ball in his hand, I don’t know if he’d been where he is today,” Miller said. “His driving force is to be back on the basketball court.”
Jackson dreamed of playing sports at the collegiate level since third grade, according to Miller. Which meant that when McNeese State quarterback Grant Ashcraft reached out to him on Facebook, it had a powerful impact on Jackson.
“As a brother in the football community, I wanted to send my prayers and best wishes,” Ashcraft wrote. “Just like football, this is a challenge God has put in front of you. He’s watching over you and will always be by your side. Hope you have a speedy and full recovery. God bless you Al.”
The Commerce community and others across the state have been extremely supportive of Jackson. A Facebook group, “Prayers for Al Jackson,” has more than 3,000 likes and counting. The Lady Tigers’ varsity volleyball program wore blue ribbons on Monday night in support of Jackson, while players and coaches from local high schools and colleges have expressed their support.
“Their support means a lot,” Wells said. “I know the Howe coach called me a couple of times, as did some of the officials from the game. I know it means a lot to Al to have everyone check on him and say ‘hi.’”
The Howe football team gave Jackson a signed jersey, and local schools are starting fundraising efforts to pay for his medical expenses. Bishop Union High School in California is dedicating the rest of its volleyball games to him and Commerce High School allowed everyone to wear Halloween costumes Thursday in exchange for a donation.
“He couldn’t believe that so many people care about what he’s doing,” Miller said. “It’s pretty nice to live in small town Texas.”
Jackson went home from the hospital on Oct. 29.