Ketron Jackson might be a quiet kid, but he’s still willing to speak his mind.
The Arkansas wide receiver’s former coaches at Royse City High School immediately recognized Jackson as a leader after he spoke up and addressed the team shortly after he transferred to the Dallas-area high school before the start of his junior year.
“His first year we finished up a scrimmage and watched the video the next day and then talked about the scrimmage and the next week,” said David Petroff, head football coach at Royse City, located about a half hour northeast of Dallas.
It’s not unusual for Petroff and his coaching staff to open the floor to the team’s players after watching film. In the coach’s experience, though, it has been uncommon for new players to instantly share their thoughts.
Jackson, who had just arrived as a transfer from Lancaster—another Dallas-area school—took advantage of the opportunity to address his new teammates and coaches after the scrimmage.
“All right, now he’s only been here for a couple weeks, I wonder what he’s going to say, you know?” Petroff thought to himself.
“He made it a point to tell the team he’s here to win, to put the team in the playoffs,” Petroff recalls of Jackson’s introductory statement. “He made it clear to everybody that he’s not worried about how many touches he gets or how many catches he gets or how many touchdowns he makes, he’s worried about what can we do as a group to be successful and be a playoff team.”
Petroff credits that first speech Jackson gave for setting the tone for how the Royse City Bulldogs fared that 2019 season.
“That kind of set the stage,” the coach said. “We went 9-3 and went two rounds deep and got knocked out by the eventual state champion (Aledo) but we put up a heck of a fight.”
Two years have passed since Jackson joined Petroff and the Bulldogs to make a big statement in Texas high school football. After choosing to accept a scholarship offer to attend Arkansas over SEC rivals Alabama, Auburn and LSU in addition to a host of schools in his home state, Jackson led Royse City back to the postseason during his senior year.
Now, as the 4-star wideout is just weeks away from beginning his collegiate career with the Razorbacks, Petroff and Royse City’s assistant head coach/offensive coordinator Steven Oliver took part in an interview with Best of Arkansas Sports to give Arkansas football fans an idea of what they can expect from Jackson (pictured at the far right in the below Tweet).
Ketron Jackson Takes Pride in Pancakes
While most wide receivers make a name for themselves because they have great speed or hands or jumping ability, Ketron Jackson is the rare full package who possesses all of the skills a coach would want in their top wide receiver.
But Jackson’s skill set doesn’t end with his large catch radius and breakaway speed. The Razorbacks’ 6’2″, 205-pound incoming freshman also craves contact and isn’t afraid to be physical with cornerbacks and even safeties.
“One of the things that sticks out to me is the pride and physicality he took in blocking,” Petroff said. “He was so physical with little high school corners—a lot of times referees would see the backend of it and throw a flag for holding and all he did was dominate the kid.”
“I was like, ‘My gosh, if he’s a lineman that’s a pancake and we’re giving him a sticker!’ But because he’s a receiver, you see him out there sometimes with these little corners manhandling them and you think it’s a hold but it’s really not. That goes to not only his strength and how physical he is, but the unselfishness he has to help out no matter what…Even when he’s not getting the ball.”
Ketron Jackson’s blocking prowess was so impressive in Texas high school football that the coaching staff finally did begin recognizing his efforts. Like many teams that offer players in-game rewards for big plays, one of Royse City’s offensive line coaches carries a bottle of maple syrup on the sideline.
When a Bulldog offensive lineman would return to the sideline after laying an opposing player on their back in the act of blocking, the coach would release a couple drops of syrup in their mouths as a treat.
Oliver has fond memories of when the coaching staff introduced the maple syrup reward to the team.
“Ketron looks up and goes, ‘Is that just for the offensive line or is that for receivers, too?’” the offensive coordinator remembered. “He was fired up about it.”
Repping Royce City
One of the lasting images Oliver will always have of Jackson’s time at Royse City was watching the wideout bust corners as a blocker.
“What’s great about him is he had about as many pancakes at the receiver spot as the linemen would,” Oliver said. “At our school, we have a track around the field and he was bringing guys out to the track. You’re like, ‘Holy smokes!’ Our linemen would be hooting and hollering about it.”
No doubt, Arkansas football fans are ready to see this kind of physicality play out on the college level. The program’s greatest “pancake blocker” of the modern era is Shawn Andrews, the 6’5″ nearly 350-pound offensive lineman from the early 2000s who regularly de-cleated opposing victims and left them on their back on his way to becoming the first sophomore first-team All-American in Arkansas history.
Andrews racked up a total of 88 pancake blocks — an average of two and a half per game — in 35 career games with the Hogs.
Ketron Jackson won’t average that many, but if he can bring even half the physicality of Shawn Andrews to his position, he will fit right in on Sam Pittman’s roster, which is built on toughness and grit.
To see Shawn Andrews in action, just watch No. 73 at right tackle maul the Bulldogs here:
Making The Jump From Texas High School Football
Neither Royse City coach is willing to hand Jackson a starting job or any postseason accolades, though both Petroff and Oliver are confident he can make an instant impact for the Razorbacks this fall, especially with the hole that was created with the news of Mike Woods leaving Arkansas for Oklahoma.
Part of the reason Royce City’s coaches are so optimistic Jackson will make a difference as a freshman is because of his toughness and his unselfishness. They are confident he’ll be able to handle the change of scenery because they watched him hit the ground running after joining their team as a newcomer.
“You never know when you get a young man that moves in because you don’t know much about him, but it was smooth when Ketron moved in and it was because of him,” Petroff said. “He’s highly intelligent and picked up on everything—there really wasn’t a huge transition.”
While Royse City had built a reputation as a hard-nosed run-first program under Petroff, Jackson’s arrival allowed Oliver to take a deeper dive into his playbook. With Jackson out wide, the team really ran a versatile spread offense that was full of run-pass-options (RPOs) designed to highlight Jackson in some fashion.
“This past season, his senior year, I think we went to 53% pass and we still had a running back that was over 1,200 yards,” Oliver said.
It will also help that Royse City used some offensive schemes that will look familiar to Jackson while he plays under Arkansas’ second-year offensive coordinator, Kendal Briles, who got his start coaching receivers on his father Art Briles’ staff at Baylor in 2008.
“We actually run some of the things offensively that they ran and we picked up when Art had Robert Griffin and some of those guys,” Oliver said. “We run what we call vertical choice stuff, so Ketron has a little familiarity with that. He doesn’t go in completely blind from a Wing-T offense, I think he has a little bit of a boost on that.”
Adding some familiarity to the offense is one of the many reasons Oliver expects Jackson to see the field this fall.
“He’s one of the kids, to me, that is the total package as far as abilities, intelligence, core values and character—all of those things,” the offensive coordinator said.
“From that standpoint, I expect to see him play some on Saturdays as a freshman. I don’t know the rest of their talent, but I think he’s definitely talent to be in the rotation and make the travel squad and have some receptions.”
With the Razorbacks’ wide receiver depth thinner than anticipated after the recent transfer of starter Mike Woods, Jackson’s contributions as a freshman could be especially welcome.
While both Petroff and Oliver have numerous examples of Jackson displaying a team-first attitude, the head coach was especially proud of the way the receiver responded when he was told he was going to have to play some defense during his senior year.
“His senior year we had graduated a lot of kids from the previous year and about midway through the season we started having to play kids on both sides of the ball,” Petroff said. “We tried to platoon him but it got to a point where it was like, ‘Ketron, you’re going to play corner’ and he played it pretty much the whole game.”
“And he sealed the deal against one of our rival teams—a playoff team as well. They threw the ball to the end zone at the end of the game and they were set up to make a play. They had a receiver who I think is going in the SEC as well and Ketron goes up as a defensive back and goes above everybody and takes the ball and seals the deal. He wins the game—it’s over.”
Petroff recalls the sideline was tense before Jackson came through in the clutch.
“Everybody was worried about it and I was like, ‘Man, I’m not worried about it because that kid right there is on my team and he’s going to go make the play,'” the coach said. “And he did.”
An NFL Comparison for Ketron Jackson
In the same fashion that neither Petroff nor Oliver are willing to pronounce Jackson as a starter, both coaches approach their long-term forecasts of Jackson with measured thoughtfulness. In their eyes, Jackson has all of the pieces to the puzzle and the work ethic to complete it, so it’s only a matter of time before he does so.
“He’s going to put in the time, effort and the work and he has the desire to do it. So, NFL prospect? Yes, to me, that is a legit possibility,” Oliver said. “This isn’t ‘This is the best kid I’ve ever coached and so he’s going to be in the NFL.’ All of the things are there—his head is on straight, he’s an intelligent kid, he understands his grades and the off-the-field things.”
Oliver then went on to compare Jackson to a former Ole Mis wideout that Arkansas fans should be plenty familiar with.
“I’ll throw this out there—it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point he’s a DK Metcalf-type kid,” Oliver said. “I told everybody before DK Metcalf came on the scene, I thought he was a speedier Dez Bryant. That’s one of the things that I think is really impressive—Ketron would catch a six-yard stop here and make a guy miss and he’d take it 80 yards and after about 10 yards past the defender, you’d see him open up and hit his track stride and it’s just beautiful.”
Plenty evidence of that here:
Happy With Arkansas Football
Petroff and Oliver have kept in contact with Jackson since he enrolled in January. Both coaches said that when he first arrived on campus, Jackson was plagued with some slight discomfort in his knee after sustaining a sprain in the winter. They noted the receiver has told them that discomfort is gone now and that he is feeling right at home with the Razorbacks.
“All indications to me are that he’s loving it,” Petroff said. “He called me the other day because he came down for graduation and we just talked for a little bit. I wasn’t 100 percent sure, but he was telling me about the work he was putting in. His knee is feeling great and everything was positive. He likes the situation. He likes where he’s at. He recognizes there’s a lot of hard work that he’s got to do that he’s putting in, but he seems to be enjoying it.”
Oliver has received the same message from the wideout.
“He loves it,” Oliver said. “He was talking about being in the mix. I think when he first got there, he was coming off a little sprain in his knee. It wasn’t anything major, but he just needed some time to heal and he was trying to dig into the playbook and everything. He feels like he could definitely be in the mix.”
Oliver said he noticed a notable change in Jackson’s stature when the receiver returned to Royse City after enrolling at Arkansas.
“I made the comment that I thought he had grown another inch when he came back,” the coach said. “I thought he got taller and I know he got thicker. He’s never shied away from the weight room.”
Jackson isn’t one to shy away from the wait room, nor is he one to shy away from a challenge. Add that to the lengthy list of reasons the Royse City coaching staff feels the Arkansas football program got a good one in Ketron Jackson.
“You’re not going to show him up,” Oliver said. “If he doesn’t like you, he’s going to find another level to make sure you know that he is that good.”
More about Ketron Jackson’s journey to the Hogs:
The Razorbacks’ wide receiver coach talks about the progress of the receivers in fall camp: