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Bennett Jackson is just what Notre Dame defense needs

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (MCT) — Even with the Hazlet Hawks, a Pop Warner outfit in Monmouth County, N.J., Bennett Jackson played fired up. Or he fired others up. Or he and teammates joined coach Greg Fitzpatrick’s motivational chants to get fired up.

It was a fire brigade, basically.

So years later, it was a bit of a task to douse simmering concern when there was a new Notre Dame coach but no new staff, there was a no-contact period and there were three weeks without a word from a soul in South Bend.

“I didn’t really know what was going on,” Jackson said. “I was kind of concerned that all these other schools were blowing me up, but I wasn’t hearing from the school I was committed to.”

When Notre Dame finally made an in-school visit, Jackson realized he was wanted but couldn’t imagine how much he would be needed. He has defaulted into being one of the secondary’s most experienced players, an emotive and physical cog who No. 17 Stanford’s monolith tight ends will test Saturday.

When split wide, as they often are, they will have maybe five to seven inches and upward of 100 pounds on Jackson. He will have no issue attempting to measure up.

“If you’re going to run up and not really want to make the tackle, you’re not going to make the tackle,” the 6-foot-1, 185-pound junior said. “If you’re going to run up and want to punish the kid, you’re going to make the tackle. I just go into every hit trying to punish whoever I’m hitting.”

It always has been so. Jackson earned a scholarship as a high school receiver and earned a starting spot as a college cornerback, and he even kicked field goals for Raritan High School.

But, tellingly, coach Bob Generelli deployed him in one somewhat surprising spot for a star player: Special teams gunner.

“He loved it,” Generelli said. “He likes contact. He likes that competitive nature, that part of the game.”

It seems Jackson’s passion bubbled over at times before reaching Notre Dame, but assuming more responsibility tempered the temper.

Jackson introspectively watches film from his early days at corner to remind himself of technique improvements, and the payoff has been 23 tackles (fourth for the Irish’s 13th-ranked defense) and three interceptions.

“Bennett’s strength is that Bennett hates to lose,” linebacker Manti Te’o said. “As far as game experience, he’s considered a young guy. But he seems like a mature player, the way he has worked, the minutes and the hours that he has put in extra to really try to improve his craft.”

Emotionally, as Irish coach Brian Kelly put it, Jackson sometimes “wears it on his sleeves.” But that’s how it all started, how he will get past Saturday and get to where he wants to be beyond that.

“When you’re at such a high level and you’re trying to overcome so much,” Jackson said, “if you don’t have strong feelings and emotions into what you’re doing, you’re not doing it as hard as you can.”

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