Posted: 7:07 am Wednesday, December 19th, 2012
By Matt Porter
Atlantic High players are familiar with Tavarius “T.J.” Jackson. He’s young (32), easygoing and has worked with many of them at two athletics-focused organizations in Delray Beach.
Now they’ll know him as their new head coach.
Jackson confirmed Wednesday morning he had accepted the head coaching position at Atlantic, following several weeks of whispers. His name was in the Delray rumor mill along with several others, including current Atlantic assistants and former head coaches of other schools.
Jackson will succeed Chris Bean, who led the Eagles to a 8-3 record and the District 13-7A title. Bean, who stepped down in December to become Athletics Director at Pompey Park in Delray, was 41-21 in six seasons.
This is Jackson’s first head coaching job. An Olympic Heights graduate who played at Virginia Tech, he spent three seasons as an assistant at West Boca Raton. Jackson doesn’t believe his lack of time on the sidelines will be an issue. He pointed to his experience as a player, a mentor with Prep and Sports and with athletic training company XPE Sports Florida.
“It’s not like I’m jumping right into coaching,” Jackson said. “Not to be cocky, but I have more football knowledge than most of the coaches in the county. Head coaching is all about organization and leadership, and that’s where I’m very strong. My knowledge of the game is there. It’s now about putting together a great staff and getting in front of the kids and showing them the direction we’re going in.”
Jackson said he has “fielded a few texts” about assistant coaching jobs. He said he wants those positions to be open to both last year’s staff and new faces. Atlantic principal Anthony Lockhart did not immediately return a phone call.
“We want to build a staff that first and foremost cares about the kids, and knows a lot about the game,” Jackson said.
Jackson created Prep and Sports in 2005 to tutor and mentor student-athletes in South County. The group runs the annual Brandon Flowers 7-on-7 and this year started the Florida-Georgia All-Star Game, a postseason showcase Jan. 5, 2013 at Boca Raton High. Six current Atlantic seniors were selected to play in that game.
XPE Sports Florida trains high school, college and pro athletes at Seacrest Athletic Complex. Jackson said players from several different area high schools train there.
Under FHSAA rules, Jackson can continue to train players from other schools at XPE provided he does not recruit them. The FHSAA defines athletic recruiting as a school representative pressuring, urging or enticing a student to transfer to their school to play sports. Among other FHSAA regulations, XPE must be a licensed company (it is), document payment for its services, and notify players that training there could potentially jeopardize their FHSAA eligibility if they were found to be illegally recruited.
Jackson said players from all schools are welcome at XPE, but he wants to maintain the respect of the county’s head coaches.
“There won’t be any recruiting at all,” Jackson said. “That’s the agreement I’ll have – if a coach from Park Vista, West Boca or Boca wants to send their kid there, I’ll sign an agreement with them. It’s not an issue on my part. We don’t want their kids transferring [to Atlantic].”
Coaches who know Jackson, including Park Vista’s Brian Dodds and West Boca Raton’s Willie Dodaro, say they’ll vouch for him.
Some of Dodds’ players have done speed training with Jackson for the last three years. Dodds said he would discuss with his coaching staff whether or not to permit players to train with Jackson, but he added he strongly believed Jackson wouldn’t recruit them.
“I don’t think he would do anything to hurt another program,” Dodds said. “I think he was hired as a coach by Atlantic because he has integrity.”
Dodaro, who employed Jackson as an assistant coach from 2003-05, noted the talent flowing into Atlantic, which has four alums in the NFL and regularly sends players to big-name colleges.
“Let’s look at it realistically,” Dodaro said. “Does he really have to recruit? Look at the kids at his school. He just has to get his kids to go to class and keep them eligible. That’s T.J.’s philosophy. He doesn’t have to go anywhere to get kids. … They have great athletes at that school, girls and boys. It’s a dream job.”
Jackson said as much last week, before his hire. Now it’s all his to work with: a pipeline of talent from the area youth leagues, a passionate fan base and a strong group of returning players, especially quarterback Thomas Owens and 6-foot-5 receiver Adly Enoicy, both currently juniors.
“Those kids are great athletes anyway,” Dodds said. “He’s going to bring out the best in them. He’s really respected in that community. He’s going to do an outstanding job.”