He's a heads up player and always using his athleticism and his intelligence to be in the right place at the right time.
Luke Jackson, a fifth year senior at Tulane, has come a long way to become the standout linebacker and leader that he is today.
“His versatility is remarkable,” says linebackers coach Michael Mutz. “His football IQ is off the charts.”
And the only thing better than his game on the field is his attitude.
“The whole teams calls me uncle Luke,” says Luke Jackson as he rubs his bald head. “That started freshman year.”
“You're going to get a guy who's going to make very few mistakes, who's a hard worker,” says Mutz. “As a coach, when you have consistency every day, it's the mark of a good player.”
Luke's athletic history is a unique one, especially for a football player. As young as the third grade, he ran triathlons, and was an accomplished swimmer through high school. But that endurance built up over the years faced the ultimate test during his freshman season at Tulane.
“As a matter of fact, it was on our anniversary, November 19th,” says Luke’s father Bob Jackson as he looks to his wife, Lisa. “I got a phone call from my wife. She called me, and I was in a meeting at work. I had the boss there with a regional meeting going on. And she called me, and I put it back in my pocket. She called me again. I knew something was wrong so I answered it, and she told me Luke got diagnosed down at Tulane, and they want us at the hospital right away.”
Testicular cancer was the diagnosis, and when you hear that word, cancer, sometimes you brace for the worst. But that is not Luke Jackson. Just like he zeroes in on the opposing quarterback, he attacked the disease from day one without a doubt that he'd win.
“My first thought was how are we going to get it better,” says Luke. “What's next? What are we going to do to get rid of it?”
“You can have a pity party and put your head down and say poor me,” says Mutz. “Or you can fight it out and have some grit and determination.”
He gets that attitude from his dad, no doubt, who lost his right arm and needed facial reconstructive surgery at 13 years old.
“I had to figure it out,” says Bob. “I'm going to live handicapped, or I'm going to live my life. I've got a Harley Davidson sitting in the garage out there. I can do whatever I want. Nothing slows me down, and he figured the same thing. He said, ‘Dad, I'm going to be like you. I'm going to hit it head on and take care of it.’”
Luke underwent chemotherapy and three surgeries, which included the most difficult operation on his abdomen.
“If he wouldn't have had that last surgery, he would've been out and about, up and around, a lot sooner,” says Bob. “But that last surgery, they cut him all the way down, took his insides out and took all of his lymph nodes out. That was a pretty devastating surgery.”
However, that was only half the battle. The fasting before surgeries and restrictive, low-carbohydrate diet cost Luke most of the muscle and endurance that he'd built up over a lifetime spent on the field or in the pool.
But once again, he powered through.
“It was just taking a step back,” says Luke. “I don't know if it was super hard. From a sense, playing football, you always have that mindset that you've always got to work hard, and you're always trying to work hard, and always trying to gain weight. It wasn't anything new.”
“You don't have a choice,” says Bob. “Once you get the disease, you get over it. And that's what he wanted to do, get over it and move on.”
A young man who's been playing football since elementary school spent two years away from the game he loved. But in 2015, he finally made his return.
Still, Luke wasn't satisfied.
“That's just the competitiveness inside a lot of athletes,” says Luke. “They always want to get better. I guess I'm the same way.”
“He's always had that type of personality,” says his mother, Lisa.” When he was determined to do something, even when he was young, you couldn't stop him.”
Just three tackles in 2015 became 20 in 2016 with five tackles for a loss and a sack. This year, he's been a force from start to finish.
“I got more playing time because of some injuries.,” says Luke. “The coaches noticed I could do some things. They started using me more. I started making a few plays.”
Over the weekend, Luke took the field at Yulman Stadium for the last time on senior day alongside his family that's been by his side every step of the way. In fact, made one of the game's biggest plays in the fourth quarter on fourth down to help beat the Houston Cougars. It's those great moments that will be missed the most.
“Five years went by really quick,” says Lisa. “I'm going to miss it, but hey, you can't continue college for the rest of your life. You have to move on.”
But bigger than football is Luke, a survivor, fighter and soon-to-be master’s degree recipient, who won't let anything, not even cancer, hold him back.
“I don't think there was a doubt in his mind that football wasn't going to happen,” says Bob. “It was going to take a little bit longer, but I don't think there was a doubt in his mind that he wasn't playing football again.”
“I think that helped, that he had football,” says Lisa.
“He's selfless,” adds coach Mutz. “He's got a great attitude. If you have a lot of those guys in your program, you're going to be successful.”
Luke already has a bachelor's degree in finance and will receive his master’s in homeland security. He says that after graduation, he looks to join a federal agency, or go into banking. But there's no doubt that he can succeed with whatever he chooses.
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