There have been notable second-generation Lettermen make a mark on Tar Heel football—in recent memory Mark Paschal (son of Doug), Brian Chacos (son of Andy) and David Bomar (son of Gayle).
Now there’s another chapter brewing. Thomas Jackson, a sophomore receiver, scored Carolina’s fifth touchdown Saturday on a 34-yard pass play in the Tar Heels’ 37-35 win at Florida State. Jackson is the youngest of three sons of David Jackson Jr. (1968-69), a defensive back during the Dooley era of Tar Heel football.
Both Jacksons are No. 48.
“Usually a number like 48 goes to a fullback or a linebacker—rarely a receiver,” says the elder Jackson. “Receivers like the single-digits. But I wore 48 and was honored and touched when Thomas picked that number.”
Thomas played at Charlotte Country Day but the 5-foot-11 back had no interest to speak of from major college programs. Receivers coach Gunter Brewer, who recruits the Charlotte area and has known David “Bulldog” Jackson for years, encouraged the younger Jackson to enroll at Carolina and walk-on to the team.
“I’ve always been a UNC fan,” Jackson said. “It’s always been a goal of mine to play for UNC. I wanted to come in and be one of the best players here. And when I came in, I definitely wasn’t one of the best players here.”
Jackson red-shirted in 2014 but found some playing time in 2015 on special teams. Now in 2016, he’s earned a scholarship and has caught nine passes, one a notable third-down conversion last week against Pitt and Saturday a 34-yard touchdown with under three minutes to play.
The elder Jackson was nicknamed “Bulldog” four decades ago for his tenacious and robust mindset, and his son has fallen heir to some similar genes. Thomas is the third son, three years behind Marshall and six behind David III.
“The first boy, you take 5,000 pictures,” David Jr. says. “The second, maybe a thousand. The third, nothing. Third boys get stuck in the closet. Third boys, they learn to fend for themselves. They figure out what they want and they have to fight for it. They learn to be tough.”
They also learn from those ahead of them in the team pecking order, guys like another walk-on who earned a scholarship, Mack Hollins. Hollins’ drive and focus are legendary and rub off on those around him. It’s remarkable that three key scoring plays—touchdowns by Hollins and Jackson and the field goal by Weiler—were by players who were not recruited by major Division I schools and had to bang on Fedora’s door for an opportunity.
“The Mack Hollins effect is huge,” Brewer says.
“Mack’s sort of become Thomas’s mentor,” David says. “The walk-ons, they have to fight harder than anyone to prove they belong.”
So it was fitting and appropriate that with the Tar Heels at the Seminole 34 and the game tied at 28 with under three minutes Saturday, Jackson flanked left with Hollins set on the line of scrimmage, a couple of yards in front. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky faked a handoff to T.J. Logan, then fired the ball quickly out to Jackson on the sideline. Two Seminole defenders missed clear shots at Jackson—the Tar Heel coaches recognized coming into the game this was not a sharp-tackling team—and Hollins provided an escort into the end zone.
“That Mack was with him step-for-step was so cool,” Jackson Jr. said. “They all play together. they all pull for one another. Those wide receivers—every one of them is a player. What a team this is.”
Fedora has certainly been open to accepting walk-on talent during his four-plus years at Carolina, witness the contributions of players like Nick Weiler, Mack Hollins, Jeff Schoettmer, Dominquie Green and now Jackson.
“Thomas can really run and he’s an intelligent kid,” Fedora says. “He tries extremely hard all of the time. He’s going to give you his best effort. That’s why he got put on scholarship this year. We expect him to help us. He’s helping on all of the special teams and he’s going to be able to go out there and help us on offense, so he’s kind of following Mack [Hollins’s] footsteps of the way Mack did it.”