The season's finest local high school football players, coach and team, as chosen by The Herald's sports staff
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published January 1, 2001
HERALD PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Marlin Jackson, Sharon Tigers
Through the years, greatness has graced Mercer County's playing fields and hardwoods, with some storied standouts graduating to the collegiate, professional and Olympian levels.
But no one -- not Julius McCoy or Jack Marin, Michael Archie, Andre Coleman or Lorenzo Styles, Rod White or Amy Balcerzak -- who has risen from The Herald coverage area's corner of the globe has gleaned the attention glancing off Sharon's Marlin Jackson, at least on the scholastic level.
During a recent 2-week period the Sharon High senior spanned the spectrum of adulation, gaining all-county, all-state and All-American honors. This past Saturday in Dallas, Jackson participated in an inaugural all-star game featuring the country's 75 best prep performers. He also recently was selected to USA Today's 24-player All-USA team, and was named that publication's Pennsylv
ania player of the year.
And although certainly not automatic, selecting the Sharon senior as The Herald's player of the year seemed appropos at the least.
Last summer, Jackson verbally committed to the University of Michigan. Then he went out and made 84 tackles, broke up 11 passes and intercepted a handful of others in helping the Tigers to 12 triumphs and a PIAA Class AA Final Four berth.
"Personally, it's been a great season. I played just as good as I thought I would. All the work I did in the summer and all the camps I went to paid off,'' Jackson said. "I had high expectations coming into the season to do real well and then, hopefully, receive a couple awards after (the season). But not All-American and all that. It was a bit of a surprise.''
For the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Jackson, who possesses 4.45 speed in the 40-yard dash, newfound fame may have come as a surprise to him, but not to a few opposing coaches.
"I made the comment to Jim (Wildman, Sharon's head coach) after we played them that I felt he's probably one of quickest players I've ever seen in high school football,'' said Wilmington veteran mentor Terry Verrelli.
Of recent vintage, Verrelli's Greyhound gridiron has featured some of the area's better athletes, including Jon Tekac and Demetrius Rich (Pitt, Youngstown State), Ryan Gargasz (Toledo), and Todd Smargiasso (Mount Union), so he recognizes talent.
Regarding Jackson, he said, "He's a big-time hitter as well as having that super speed. He certainly, to me, is legitimately a big-time Division I player, ability-wise, for sure.
"He's also a great tackler and makes great contact when he hits and that's what it takes, that's what you see when you watch television on Saturdays,'' Verrelli added. "I'm sure some of it is natural, but he's worked hard to strengthen himself and he uses his God-given abilities to go along with it.''
Verrelli has coached hitters such as Rocky Craley, a linebacker who matriculated at Princeton University. But regarding Jackson, Verrelli noted, "That's the difference (between Jackson and others). He can hit like that within a 5-yard, sometimes a 2-yard distance. That's because of that quickness he has that other people don't have. ... that's what separates him from most of them.''
"The thing with Marlin was the fact that I didn't run a pass pattern to his side (of the field) in two years; we were just gonna stay away from the kid, he's just too good,'' said Tyrone coach John Franco, whose squad won the PIAA AA state title in 1999. "Offensively, we double-covered him and we had a couple double-coverages set up for him and Terrance Phillips. But defensively, he's the best corner we've seen the last two years. He's as good, if not better, than any I've seen. I coached at Altoona High for eight years (prior to Tyrone) and we played against the likes of Massillon, Brooke (W. Va.), Penn Hills and some schools in the Pittsburgh area ... and he's as good as I've seen since I've been coaching. He's just an outstanding talent.''
"I think I'll remember him as long as I coach,'' added Ursuline High coach Jim Vivo, whose Irish met Sharon approximately four months ago and subsequently won an Ohio High School Athletic Association state crown.
"Without a doubt, he's the best football player I've ever seen on film,'' Vivo, regarding Jackson, said. "He's the most athletic, has tremendous quickness and he has a tough and nasty side to him. He'll come up and hit you.
"I expect him to go to Michigan and be the next Charles Woodson,'' Vivo, who has coached at Cardinal Mooney, Boardman and now Ursuline for a dozen seasons, said. "And if he continues to get better, he'll definitely be playing on Sundays. He's a once-in-a-lifetime kid. ... I'm glad we don't have to face him again.''
Jackson realized, however, upon making the transition from junior high to high school that being blessed with ability would take him only so far.
"When I played varsity when I was in ninth grade, the coaches told me if I wanted to be a great player, I just had to work hard every day, in the weight room, on the field, on everything," he recently said while recalling a defining moment in his athletic maturation process. "And all the coaches on the coaching staff pushed me to be my best and helped me with everything.
"Talent, hard work and coaching,'' he responded in relating his recipe for scholastic success.
There is another ingredient -- a brotherly bond. Jackson's half-brother, Marko, was another Sharon standout who eventually matriculated at Temple University and played well for the Big East Conference Owls before a near-fatal stabbing interrupted his collegiate career.
"When I was little, I watched him play and that's really what got me wanting to play football and got me loving it -- his love for the game rubbed off on me,'' Marlin said. "I wanted to be just like him; I had the same (uniform) number and everything. When I was younger, I wanted to be just like my brother and everything's happened and now I'm doing it.''
Jackson now will take his game to the next level, playing on Saturday afternoons in American arenas such as "The Big House'' in Ann Arbor, Mich before 105,000-plus and Happy Valley in State College, Pa.
"I'm not nervous or anything; I'm ready to play,'' said Jackson, who was recruited by another former Sharon standout and Wolverines assistant coach Teryl Austin. "They tell me to be ready as soon as I get up there, I'm gonna be playing right away. ... I won't be red-shirted. There's three cornerbacks there now and I'm the fourth, coming in. Hopefully, I'll move up on that (depth) chart. I can't wait to get up there. I'm at home right now, but I can't wait to get there. I'm ready to go. ... I think about it all the time, picking off a pass, taking it back. I think about it all the time.''
If his scholastic swan song had been scripted any better, Jackson would like to have added one chapter:
Joining his Tiger teammates in Hershey on the second Saturday in December atop the PIAA pedestal.
"That's what we wanted, that was the goal for everybody. There were no individual goals; everybody just wanted the state championship, that's all we wanted, the state championship.''
In this, the Information Age, recruiting services will tell you Jackson is one of the country's most sought-after prep cornerbacks, so he's certainly no big fish in a small pond. However he was appreciative regarding his selection as The Herald's player of the year.
"It's my local paper, and I'm proud of that, as well as all the other awards.''
And there may be many more to follow.
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