Rico Jackson officially began last Wednesday (March 1) the task of rebuilding the Escambia County High School football program.
Jackson, who guided Aliceville High to the Class 2A state title game last season, was hired last week to replace Royce Young, whose teams posted a 4-26 mark over the three seasons he was at the ECHS helm.
The new coach admitted that the job of turning around a Blue Devils program that hasn’t seen a high degree of success in nearly three decades wouldn’t be easy. But he feels that with time, through hard work and dedication on the part of coaches, players, school administrators and the community, ECHS football could be restored to a respectable level.
“It’s a process,” he said. “It’s not going to be an overnight success story. I would hope it would be, but I know it’s a process that starts in the weight room. We’ll be coaching the kids not just football, but coaching them mentally as well. We’ll be getting them into the classroom, explaining how to play the game, teaching them character education, that type of thing. All of that goes into building a successful program.”
Jackson noted the importance in feeling that school system administrators “have your back,” especially during the transition period.
“The support of the administration is the big reason why Escambia County felt like a great place,” he said. “Support from the administration is the key to everything. If they don’t have your back, well …”
The former Alabama State University linebacker agreed that soliciting the support of the community would be an important part of his job.
“The number one way to get support is to win games,” he said. “The more you win, the more people will come to watch you. They want to see a good product; they want to see progression. Sometimes progression doesn’t mean 10-0. People need to see us progressing in the right direction. I’m going to be out in the community, getting to know people off the field, but winning is the major deal.”
He noted that he would work to replicate the solid programs that have been established at other area schools.
“Pretty much every school in a 25-30 mile radius is successful,” he said. “From Thomasville to Jackson to Leroy to Vigor, they all play winning football. I don’t see why Escambia County can’t.”
ECHS’s status as a Class 4A, Region 1 team will make Jackson’s job a little more difficult. But for Jackson and his staff, at least at the beginning of the rebuilding process, the region’s powerhouses – UMS Wright, Andalusia and Thomasville – will be more of an afterthought.
“The biggest thing for us is building confidence in ourselves,” he said. “We’re not going to worry about them (the other schools) right now; we’re just going to concentrate on us. We want to get better every day. Then, hopefully, we’ll get to a point where we’re mentioned in the same breath as UMS, Andalusia and Thomasville.”
He acknowledged that the recruitment of ECHS athletes by Escambia Academy and Northview High School, which included several projected starters who transferred to those schools prior to the start of last season, would be something he would also have to deal with. He noted that he had little recourse, other than to work harder at convincing promising young athletes to stay in the local school system.
“I feel like building relationships is the biggest thing,” he said. “One of the keys will be getting into the middle school and letting the kids know that Coach Jackson is going to coach you hard, but at the same time is going to take care of you and help you any way he can.”
Jackson made no bones about the fact that those who played for him would earn their way onto the team, and would also earn any playing time they might accrue.
“I consider myself a disciplinarian,” he said. “I will be transparent with the players and their parents, but at the same time I will be straight-down-the-line. I’m blunt. If you’re not doing a good job, I’m going to tell you you’re not doing a good job; if you’re doing great, I’m going to praise you. I don’t have a hidden agenda. Right is right; wrong is wrong, and I’m going to try and get this program going in the right direction.”
Jackson said the group of scrappy young players who made up the bulk of last year’s team would provide a solid foundation on which to start the rebuilding process.
“I’m excited about talking with Coach Young, watching more film and meeting the kids we’ve got coming back,” he said. “I’m ready to get over to the middle school and see what eighth-graders we’ve got coming over. I don’t mind playing young kids, as long as they play their tails off. I think we’ve got a good nucleus of young kids that played; we’ll see how it fits into what we want to do.”
Jackson and his wife Chakema, a native of Massachusetts, have three children. They are currently looking for a home in Atmore and preparing to move their family here from Pickens County. The coach pointed out that the other half of his “team” was dreading the relocation process, but 100-percent supportive of his decision to take the ECHS job.
“She’s not excited about the moving, per se,” he said. “But she’s a big part of this too, and she’s excited about the opportunity and about getting back down this way.” (Jackson’s parents live near Mobile, and his coaching career includes stints as an assistant at Baker High, Alma Bryant High and Satsuma High.)
Jackson promised to do everything within his power to restore respectability to the ECHS football program.
“I’m ready to get to work,” he said. “We’re going to do our best; that’s all we can do. Once we’ve done that, we want to sit back and watch the growth of our team.
I’m excited to be here, and I really believe Escambia can win.”