The Tribune-Review and the TribLive High School Sports Network are profiling each member of the 25-player Trib HSSN Preseason WPIAL Football All-Star team. The players will be recognized at 2 p.m. July 24 during HSSN Media Day at Kennywood Park.
No one in Pennsylvania caught more touchdown passes during the 2017 season than Gateway’s Courtney Jackson.
Of his almost 100 catches, 24 went for scores, and his nearly 2,000 receiving yards helped the Gators to one of the more memorable seasons in program history.
“Going to Heinz and bringing home the (WPIAL) title was a dream come true for all of us,” Jackson said. “That is a goal for every team every year. That’s what all the hard work was for.”
His 15 catches for 264 yards and three touchdowns in a 31-28 victory over Manheim Central in the PIAA semifinals helped propel Gateway to the state-title game.
Jackson said with a winning culture established at Gateway and the talent on both sides of the ball, there’s no reason there can’t be a repeat of last year’s postseason success.
“It’s pretty exciting now as the season gets closer,” said Jackson, who gave a verbal commitment to Syracuse in late April. “We’re competing in a number of 7-on-7s, getting stronger in the weight room and just becoming closer as a team. Everyone is ready to put the pads on and compete.”
Jackson knows the road to the WPIAL Class 5A title game will be littered with challenges, including 5A runner-up and conference foe Penn-Trafford, conference rivals Franklin Regional and McKeesport and traditional powers Woodland Hills, Mars, Upper St. Clair and West Allegheny.
Class 5A has expanded by six teams to 24 and from two conferences to three.
Jackson said he has been in the weight room in hopes of making a bigger impact on defense.
“I am ready to hit somebody,” Jackson said. “Our defense is experienced. There should be no hiccups.”
While Jackson is looking forward to his final season, he said there is a mix of relief and excitement knowing his college future is set.
Syracuse, a program he said is on the rise in the ACC, was his choice. That concluded a recruiting process that produced nearly two dozen Division I offers, including Baylor, Northwestern, Pitt, West Virginia, Kentucky and Temple.
“I know where I am going, so I can focus on football and not worry about anything else,” Jackson said. “It was an eye-opening experience, but it’s a good feeling to have all that behind me.”
Gateway coach Don Holl said he marveled at Jackson’s contributions last year, but he said Jackson’s 2017 impact was foreshadowed as a sophomore, including his performance in a dramatic WPIAL semifinal against McKeesport.
“He did some phenomenal things to put us in position to help us win that game (against McKeesport),” Holl said. “As a junior, he stepped right into that role of being the guy. He started to dominate over the summer at the 7-on-7s and became the guy that always got open and gave you valuable yards after the catch. He also was playing good defense. We knew he was going to be really good and what he eventually turned out to be. He exceeded even our expectations.
“Courtney is never satisfied with any stats or accomplishments, both personally or with the team. He’s always striving to work hard and get better, and that rubs off on his teammates.”