Willie Jackson Jr. is back home.
He’s always been home.
The Gainesville native and P.K. Yonge alum was introduced as his alma mater’s new head football coach on Monday.
“It means a lot,” said Jackson, who was Eastside High School’s offensive coordinator this past season. “I’m very familiar here. Just about everyone in my family has gone to P.K. Yonge, so it’s great to be able to come back and return the legacy.”
It’s come full circle for Jackson, who graduated from P.K. Yonge in 1989 and was a PK “lifer.”
“First of all, he gets P.K.,” said P.K. Yonge principal Dr. Carrie Geiger. “He gets our diversity. He gets the family, the community, he’s part of us. That’s really important to me because we are a very unique place, so the fact that he’s coming home and he already has this deep love for P.K., he and I share that, so I’m really excited to have him back.”
Jackson competed in football, basketball, baseball, and track and field for the Blue Wave.
It was football where he made a name for himself on a bigger stage.
Jackson received All-state honors as a senior at P.K. Yonge, rushing for 427 yards and making 27 receptions.
That helped Jackson earn a scholarship to play football at the University of Florida (1990-1993) under coach Steve Spurrier.
He is a disciple of the Fun N Gun,’ so you can expect to see some of that in the blue and white.
“If you know me, it will be explosive,” Jackson said.
As a Gator, Jackson was a three-time All-SEC football player.
He is ninth all-time on the UF receiving list with 2,172 yards receiving. He is just nine yards shy of tying Jacquez Green, who played for Spurrier in the mid-90s, for eighth place on the list.
Jackson was selected in the fourth round of the NFL Draft by the Dallas Cowboys and played nine seasons with the Cowboys, Jaguars, Bengals, Saints, Falcons, Redskins, and Broncos.
“It’s a thrill to welcome back P.K.’s favorite son, I mean he is, I would argue, P.K.’s most decorated and successful athlete ever to come out of this school, nine years in the National Football League,” said P.K. Yonge Director and Superintendent Brian Marchman. “His Gator career speaks for itself.”
But athletics are just part of what makes this a home run hire for P.K. Yonge.
Marchman said it’s much more challenging, especially with the transfer portal, for high school students to be looked at by colleges.
He said the athletes need to “distinguish themselves academically like Willie did, and that will give them a leg up.”
“We know Coach Jackson will promote that,” Marchman said.
Jackson is excited about his new football program.
“I think we’ll be competitive because there are so many changing parts now,” Jackson said. “The high school, as we call it, the portal, is as crazy as the college football portal now so you don’t know at which point you’ll have these kids and those kids, so those are challenges that you have to prepare to deal with and you can’t deal with them until they arise, but as far as us being competitive, I think we can be competitive.”
Marchman announced that P.K. Yonge would begin its new "P.K. Pathways" on August 10, which raises the academic requirements of its students. As a University of Florida lab school, they envision that every one of their students should be both college and career ready.
There was concern about how tougher academic requirements might impact the program in a negative way.
“I think it scared people at first, but at the end of the day you have to go through academics to go to college, so it works hand-in-hand,” Jackson said. “It’s basically a bonus because if you can get through it then you can get through college. So many times as parents we put the cart before the horse, so to say, and we’re looking at our kid there before they have to go through this part of it to be successful on the next level. Once I think they understand it, and their part of it, they’ll get through it just fine.”
Jackson has established a legacy in the area and that could attract others to his program.
“I think it will work that way,” Jackson said. “Even when I was doing Little League, I had a lot of kids come. They trust me. They trust me when it comes to coaching. I don’t anticipate getting a lot of kids to leave their schools, but I do anticipate that we’ll be able to build a competitive program here.”
Jackson has always wanted to be a head coach.
It’s good to be home.