Center Grove's Tayven Jackson keeps the Trojans success in perspective

lindyscott- IFD Feature 8-19-21

Success has never gotten the best of Tayven Jackson.

After doing his part to lead Center Grove to the Class 6A state football championship last fall and a Class 4A sectional basketball title this past winter, the 6-foot-5, 195-pound standout remains humble.

"Playing for Center Grove is a privilege," Jackson said. "We put on those jerseys every game representing our school, community, and alumni. I just kept my head down and focus on how we could get better as a team and how I could help."

This positive attitude paid off for the talented quarterback earlier this year when he accepted a scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee and compete for the Volunteers in 2022.

Before heading off to Rocky Top, though, Jackson wants to do his best to lead the Trojans back to Lucas Oil Stadium over Thanksgiving weekend to defend their crown.

His mission gets underway Friday when top-ranked Center Grove travels to No. 5 (Class 6A) Warren Central in the season and Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference opener.

Entering his third campaign at quarterback, Jackson hopes to improve on his totals of 113-of-182 passing for 1,756 yards with 17 touchdowns and 46 carries for 191 yards and six scores.

"Every day, I try to practice as if it's an in-game game scenario," explained Jackson. "We as a team preach 'don't let the moment get too big' and that's how we go about in practice and in games. Culture is everything to us. We're just trying to represent the alumni in a great way and this is what we're trying to do.

Playing in one of the toughest conferences in the Midwest and knowing your opponents are going to give you their best effort week in and week out means there is no time for a letdown.

"It's a great experience and will only get me and my teammates ready for the next level," Jackson said of the MIC. "We have to stay focused every day in practice and cannot take any plays off. We will be great and perfect at what we do and respect our opponent. I promise you we have to stay together and focused."

Having worked with Jackson since he got a chance to perform on the varsity as a freshman, longtime Center Grove coach Eric Moore has been impressed with his progress.

"TJ is one of the most improved players we have had at Center Grove," Moore said. "Each year, he has gotten so much better. He is the true dual threat quarterback. He can run with great size and speed and has a huge arm with excellent accuracy. He is definitely a true football dude."

The feeling is mutual for Jackson when it comes to his boss.

"Me and Coach Moore have a great relationship," Jackson said. "He's like a father figure and I hope I've made him proud. He has been through a lot in his life, especially with his health issues this year.

"He's the toughest guy I know. He's out there in 100-degree heat coaching as hard as he can. That's all I need as a coach. I respect Coach Moore so much. He's the greatest."

Another individual Jackson has admiration for is his older brother, Indiana junior basketball player Trayce Jackson-Davis.

"My brother is my hero," stated Jackson, who averaged over 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists on the hardwood as a junior. "I look up to him so much. He is the greatest basketball player I have ever seen, but I would never tell him. He's helped me through a lot in life and I could never repay him. The way he carries himself on and off the court is what I look up to him for."

In the end, after pondering over more than 20 college offers, Jackson believed Knoxville, Tennessee was the best place for him.

"Calling all the other coaches and telling them of my decision was the hardest thing I've done, but telling (Tennessee) Coach (Josh) Heupel was an amazing feeling," Jackson said. "The deciding factor was I felt like home. Coach Heupel made me feel wanted and has a plan for me. Tennessee has the best fanbase in college football and I can't wait to run out in Neyland (Stadium) with 103,000 fans screaming."

However, the decision to enroll at Tennessee in January means this will be the final go-around for Jackson and his buddies to hang out together.

"I couldn't thank my teammates enough in both sports," Jackson said. "They have made me love the game and cherish every moment with them. Having to make a decision on going to college early has been the hardest decision for me."

Jackson hopes to leave Center Grove in style with another blue ribbon around his neck.

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