VISTA : For Jackson, Contact Is a Two-Way Street
Chato Jackson is a football player for the ages, the kind of guy who might have felt comfortable playing before helmets had facemasks.
He is powerful and tough, a jarring hitter in seemingly perpetual motion when he’s on the field for Vista High School. And he’s on the field a lot.
Jackson is the player who puts the bite in the Panthers. A bruising fullback with enough speed to challenge most secondaries, he led the team in rushing this season. He also plays inside linebacker with an insatiable lust for contact.
Despite being reserved by nature, he said he finds the contact “exhilarating.”
Jackson will be able to feel the thrill one more time in his high school career at 7 p.m. Saturday when he leads his team into the San Diego Section 3-A football championship game against Point Loma at San Diego Jack Murphy Stadium.
Vista exploits Jackson’s talents superbly, especially on defense, and the Panthers put opposing teams in a precarious Catch-22.
Fallbrook Coach Tom Pack explained: “Vista overloads to one side and Chato is on the weak side. We say, ‘Hey, we can go back to that side.’ The problem is that Chato’s there. They make you run at their best player.”
Vista’s defense has been extraordinary this season. Through 13 games, they have allowed only 13 touchdowns (9.2 points per game).
There’s no doubt Jackson (6 feet 2, 212 pounds) is the heart of the Panthers, who are making their first championship appearance since 1986, when they lost to Fallbrook and finished 12-1.
Jackson is the Palomar League’s offensive player of the year. He has scored 25 touchdowns and rushed 249 times for 1,447 yards.
However, opposing coaches feared him most when he lined up on defense, where he is a two-time first-team selection. He caused five fumbles and recovered two, intercepted two passes and had eight sacks among 114 tackles.
“I’d rather face him as a running back,” Torrey Pines Coach Ed Burke said. “He’s a Division I player as a linebacker.”
Jackson said he prefers defense, perhaps because he’s been at it longer, playing outside linebacker his freshman year.
“The only thing they told me,” Jackson said, “was to get the ball.”
Three years later, the defense is more complicated but Jackson is still getting the ball.
Two of the half-dozen colleges he is interested in attending--he’s not disclosing which ones they are--want him on the defensive side of the ball. Two others say they’d be happy to have him on either.
“He’s kind of a marvel,” Vista Coach Dick Haines said. “That’s something you don’t see every day. He’s a unique player who has a mental toughness and stamina to play both ways. If you’re the best player at the fullback spot and you’re the best player at the linebacker spot, you better have him in the game.”
“There are people who say a fresh fair player is as good as a tired good player. That’s bull. We play two-way people often.”
Matt Stone blocks for Jackson and is also a linebacker. Jose Perez is a receiver and defensive back.
The last two-way players at Vista who excelled the way Jackson has were the late Sal Aunese (quarterback/safety) and Brett Smith (fullback/linebacker) on the unbeaten--13-0--1985 team, considered one of the greatest in section history. But neither of those players carried the same weight that Jackson has. In fact, Aunese played defense only when the Panthers were in a pinch.
Although the 1991 Panthers (13-0) lack the same kind of dominating performances, they still have a chance to win more games.
But Jackson says the task will be difficult against Point Loma.
“I take them seriously and I respect them,” he said.
“Are you more dangerous against a team you respect?” he is asked.
Let the exhilaration begin.