Since he was a young player, members of the Midlothian coaching staff have had their eyes on Kendall Jackson. His 6-foot-1 frame, relentless pursuit of offensive players and non-stop motor have made him a fast riser in the Panther program.

Now Jackson is being asked to show that all the attention was worthwhile.

As one of the few healthy defensive players with varsity experience, Jackson has seen his status elevate from reserve to probable starter, from trainee to leader.

Its nothing I havent experienced before. I always have been a leader in everything. Ive been in a lot of leadership programs so its just something I knew I was always going to do eventually, Jackson said. Last years senior class, once they left I knew that it was time for me to do what I know how to do, which is step up and be a leader.

When he was in eighth-grade, Jackson was often talked to by the high school coaches about his chances of making an impact early on once he moved up. That came to fruition his first season in high school when Jackson was a defensive force that helped lead the freshman team to an undefeated mark in district play.

He started last season as a junior varsity player but was called up to the varsity level early in the season. His first snaps came against South Grand Prairie with his first tackles coming on back-to-back plays against Duncanville, something he calls one of the best feelings Ive ever had. Jackson finished the season with four tackles for the varsity squad.

Last fall, Jackson spent much of the season playing as a reserve nose guard behind former Panther Ryan Jaisle. Now, its his time to shine.

What defensive line coach Gerald Slovacek has seen in Jacksons move to varsity is a player taking his job much more seriously. Jackson has embraced his role as a player the team needs to be successful.

His attitude from last year to this year has really changed. Hes still only going to be a junior but his work ethic and attitude in a lot of areas has changed, Slovacek said. Hes still a young kid, not going to be a senior but the main thing Ive seen is his work ethic. Hes been here in mornings, hes been here after school, hes been doing the things weve asked him to do.

Setting an example and living up to expectations are both burdens Jackson must carry into every practice and every game. Neither bother him mainly because of his experiences last season.

While he might not have made a monster impact in 2010, Jackson did learn plenty of valuable lessons to take into the rest of varsity career. The biggest of those humility and passion.

The game its not too much quicker, just a little bit quicker. People are bigger. I learned you really have to be physical now. You cant just think youre going to be a stud, Jackson said. Youve got to really want it. Youve really got to want the game. Its changed my whole mentality of how I look at it.

Contact Alex at alex.riley@wninews.com or at 469-517-1456.