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Unsung Jackson is Gaels’ rock

At 286 pounds, Jaylon Jackson is tough to miss as he walks down the street.

But on the football field the last two seasons, the Bishop Gorman defensive tackle has been easier to overlook.

It’s not that he isn’t talented. It’s because Jackson has been surrounded by a bevy of Division I defensive line prospects.

The Gaels sent three linemen to Division I schools after last season, and senior defensive end Jalen Grimble has committed to Southern California. But Jackson has played a huge role in getting Gorman back to the Class 4A state title game.

The Gaels (12-2) play McQueen (12-1) at 12:07 p.m. today at Sam Boyd Stadium.

“Anybody that watches film knows who No. 51 is,” Gorman coach Tony Sanchez said of Jackson. “He’s just been the heart and soul of that interior.”

With Gorman’s offense averaging 46.6 points, it has been easy to overlook the team’s defensive prowess. But like overlooking Jackson on the line, not paying attention to Gorman’s defense would be foolhardy.

“Everybody thinks we’ll slip up here and there and we won’t stay focused,” Jackson said. “But we just do what we practice every day and go out there and prove everybody wrong each and every week.”

The Gaels have held opponents to an average of 7.2 points and have seven shutouts.

“We may get overlooked, but we don’t really care about that,” senior linebacker Ronald Lyles said. “We just go out and do our job every game. That’s all we care about, getting that shutout. That’s our goal every game.”

Unlike many of his teammates, the 5-foot-10-inch, 187-pound Lyles doesn’t have the look of a college prospect. But he has been extremely important to Gorman’s success, having led the team in tackles each of the last two seasons.

“He doesn’t stand tall in stature, he’s not big when it comes to weight, but he’s big on the football field,” Sanchez said. “You need guys like that if you’re going to win.”

Gorman has done plenty of winning the last two seasons, and the defense has done its job this year. The Gaels were 15-0 last season, and the team’s two losses this year are to De La Salle (Calif.) and Hamilton (Ariz.). De La Salle is ranked No. 5 in the nation by USA Today, and Hamilton is No. 7.

“They’ve played well in every single game all year,” Sanchez said of his defense. “Our kids take a lot of pride in defense. We played great defense last year, we’ve played great defense this year and we believe in it.”

Moving the football against Gorman is difficult enough, but things stand to be even more difficult for McQueen today. The Lancers are expected to be without running back Nick Shepherd (1,545 rushing yards), who injured his knee in the team’s 7-6 victory over Liberty in the state semifinals.

All-Northern Region receiver Rollins Stallworth, who caught a touchdown pass from Shepherd against Liberty, also is expected to miss the game because of a concussion. Shepherd’s backup, Arnold Carrillo, also got hurt against Liberty and might not play.
Shepherd and Stallworth also start at safety.

The injuries mean Jackson, Lyles and Gorman’s other seniors have an even better chance at going out with a state title.

“It’s been a long journey for us these four years,” Lyles said. “I’m just excited to finish it off with the state championship, and hopefully get the victory.”

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