Photo: David McGregor . Brookwood's Zach Jackson runs upfield with the ball during a passing league game against Mountian View last week at Parkview.
No one will argue, last year's Brookwood defense was led by Cameron Lynch and Nick Moore.
Lynch was a play making linebacker, while Moore was the brains in the secondary. Both were a main cog in the Broncos winning the Class AAAAA state championship last season.
Lynch signed with Syracuse and Moore is at Kennessaw State playing baseball, leaving a major void in the Brookwood defense.
Zach Jackson is hoping to be the man to fill that hole.
"I just feel like this year it's my turn to step up and be a captain on defense, leading everybody whether it's cornerbacks, linebackers, whoever on the field," Jackson said. "I looked up to Cameron and Nick. They got me in the position I'm in and it's my turn to do that to the younger guys."
Jackson started 13 games for the Broncos last year, making 90 tackles and five interceptions. He earned all-county honors and is the county's top returner in interceptions.
All that success would not have happened if it weren't for an injury to a teammate in Game 2.
Jackson showed potential during fall camp, but was unable to break the starting lineup in the secondary. He was a back up to Moore going into the season. Then the other safety, Zeke Brown, tore his ACL in the second game of the season against Collins Hill. Jackson was thrown into action and it didn't take long for him to fit in with the defense.
"Zach was in our plans. We knew we would play a lot of spread teams and the injury to Zeke only speeded things up," Brookwood coach Mark Crews said. "Obviously, he's got talent. At the time he wasn't mentally quite where he need to be (to play)."
Two weeks later, Jackson intercepted his first pass of the season against Archer and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
"I just progressed those next two games and after the third game I felt comfortable," Jackson said. "I just progressed every single game."
Now the training wheels are off from his junior year and Jackson is taking a more assertive role in being a leader. Brookwood's defense graduated seven starters and Jackson is the only full-time starter back in the secondary.
"We need a leader back there. Someone that can calm the waters when they need to be," Crews said. "He's doing a good job of driving the bus back there."
Jackson's older brother Josh is a 2008 Brookwood grad and now plays at Army. The possibility of Jackson playing at a major college one day was unclear until this spring.
Jackson had little recruiting attention during his junior year, but that picked up this spring. He ran a 4.51-second 40-yard dash at the Simmons Combine, the seventh fastest time among more than 200 of the state's top college prospects. Since then the college scholarship offers have rolled in for the 6-foot, 180-pound Jackson. He holds 10 offers, including Mississippi State, Vanderbilt, Illinois and Army.
"He's an outstanding player and has developed into a hot commodity as far as the schools recruiting him," Crews said. "His family has been a big part of the community since Josh cam through. He's the product of good parents, good coaching and doing the right things."
Brookwood's state championship last season was the first since 1996. It was a 13-year drought, but Jackson hopes it doesn't take that long again to win another title. He grew up in the Broncos' youth league, winning county titles five out of the six years and is used to success.
"I think this year we have a good chance of going back. We just have to have our minds set and know we can accomplish that goal," Jackson said. "It starts with Lassiter in the Dome. I'm really excited with what we can do this year."