Staff Photo: Brendan Sullivan Pallbearers, Chris Hall, left, and Tyler Rogers, right, Norcross High School freshman football coaches, carry out the casket of 15-year-old Nicolas Jackson II at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church in Norcross on Saturday. Jackson, a Norcross High School freshman, was fatally shot in his home during a burglary Feb. 2.
NORCROSS -- In his valedictorian speech last year, Nicolas "Nick-Nick" Jackson II hinted that his potential in life was boundless. At his funeral Saturday, Alabama State University made it official.
Jackson, a freshman football player at Norcross High School who dressed for varsity last year, dreamed of making the Hornet's squad one day, en route to the NFL. News of Jackson's ambitions, in the wake of his violent death, reached the Alabama school. A proclamation was drafted.
A couple thousand mourners gave a standing ovation Saturday at Hopewell Missionary Baptist Church when ASU football coach Reggie Barlow announced that Jackson will be an honorary ASU team member and student this year.
Mentors and coaches recalled Jackson, 15, as a soft-spoken and intelligent kid with a megawatt smile and a penchant for video games and green apples. An award for excellent students at Hopewell Christian Academy, where Jackson graduated atop his eighth-grade class, will bear his name.
Bishop William Sheals called Jackson's impact during his short life "powerful," as evidenced by the strong turnout.
Mourners withstood Saturday's chill to greet Jackson's immediate family as they arrived. A long procession of black Cadillac hearses was led by a carriage for the casket, drawn by Percheron horses.
"He was so special to me," said mother Shameka Render. "He was such a momma's boy."
Standing funeral sprays bore the numbers of Jackson's football uniforms, including the "11" he wore at Norcross. The arrangements closest to the casket spelled: "Lil Nick." A large contingent of Jackson's teammates and Norcross faculty attended, and his pallbearers were his freshman football coaches last season.
"The Nick I knew was a quiet, respectful kid," said Norcross freshman coach Chris Hall. "Full of potential on the field, and an honor student in the classroom."
Six men from metro Atlanta have been arrested in connection with the armed home-invasion that left Jackson dead from a gunshot wound to his heart. A judge on Friday forwarded charges of burglary and felony murder against those suspects to Gwinnett Superior Court for trial.
Investigators are still trying to determine why they allegedly targeted the Jacksons' tri-level home near downtown Norcross. A Norcross police sergeant testified this week that Jackson was holding shut his bedroom door when six shots were fired into it.
During the valedictorian speech in May, Jackson cautioned his fellow middle-school graduates to never lose touch with the past. Memories, he noted, are priceless.
"When looking at the horizon that is my future, I am pleased," Jackson said then. "I hope that all of our lives will be something truly great, and never let this day, or year, be forgotten."