Georgia safety Dan Jackson making his way with a ‘fearless mindset’

Kentucky wide receiver Chauncey Magwood (10) is stopped by Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson (47), defensive back Derion Kendrick (11), and defensive back Latavious Brini (36) as he carries the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

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Kentucky wide receiver Chauncey Magwood (10) is stopped by Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson (47), defensive back Derion Kendrick (11), and defensive back Latavious Brini (36) as he carries the ball during the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 16, 2021 in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

Credit: AP

ATHENS — There’s an old football saying that you must have players “willing to stick their head in there,” especially on defense. In the age of targeting fouls, it’s perhaps less applicable than it once was in a literal sense. But figuratively, it refers to players not only willing to make contact and be physical within the game, but actually delighting in doing so.

Georgia’s Dan Jackson is such a player.

Generously listed at 6-foot-1, 190 pounds, the walk-on safety from Gainesville nonetheless tends to find himself in the midst of great collisions, and just as often as the recipient as the deliverer.

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Case in point: Kelee Ringo’s 79-yard interception return for a touchdown to cap off the Bulldogs’ national championship win over Alabama.

Jackson was among several Georgia defenders escorting the Georgia cornerback down the sideline toward the end zone. He was looking for somebody to block. Just inside the Alabama 10-yard line, Jackson found somebody.

Or, perhaps, that somebody found him.

Alabama wideout Agiye Hall (6-3, 195) and Jackson met mostly inconsequentially a few yards away from the play. Their collision sent both players down, but the smaller Jackson went flying several yards toward the end zone.

You know, physics.

“All he does is give you everything he's got every day. I love the kid. He's done a great job. The guy deserves a danged scholarship, and as soon as we can get one, we're going to try to do that."

- coach Kirby Smart, on safety Dan Jackson

“I thought we were about to walk in, and I happened to look to my left and here (Agiye) comes out of nowhere,” Jackson said last week, smiling and laughing at the memory. “But, you know, in that moment I wasn’t feeling anything. I’m just glad he got into the end zone.”

Asked if it should be characterized as a block or him simply getting “de-cleated” by an opposing player, Jackson laughed again.

“I prefer that it’s called a block,” he said. “Right after it happened, we both popped up and (Agiye) goes, ‘Dude, you got me.’ And I was, like, ‘Nah, man, you got me!’ I think we were both kind of star-struck a little bit.”

That’d be star-struck, as in seeing stars.

Jackson has had a tendency to find himself on one end or another of a lot of major moments in games in his short time in Athens. About this time last year, Jackson unintentionally drew notice when he was “trucked” by a 6-7, 265-pound teammate, tight end Darnell Washington, in the G-Day game. But Jackson also finished as the Red team’s leading tackler that day in Sanford Stadium.

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Georgia's Dan Jackson blocks a punt attempt by Arkansas kicker Reid Bauer. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Georgia's Dan Jackson blocks a punt attempt by Arkansas kicker Reid Bauer. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

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Georgia's Dan Jackson blocks a punt attempt by Arkansas kicker Reid Bauer. (Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

The Bulldogs also saw Jackson sticking his head in there on special teams last season. His punt block against Arkansas last October resulted in a touchdown recovery by Zamir White in a 37-0 victory. Jackson was close to getting his hand on a couple of others.

Such a get-after-it attitude led to Jackson playing in all 15 games for the national champion Bulldogs, including four starts. As a redshirt freshman, he finished seventh on the team with 40 tackles and a quarterback hurry.

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Georgia coach Kirby Smart gushes about Jackson whenever he’s been asked about him.

“All he does is give you everything he’s got every day,” Smart said last October. “I love the kid. He’s done a great job. The guy deserves a danged scholarship, and as soon as we can get one, we’re going to try to do that.”

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Missouri running back Dawson Downing (28) fends off Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson in the second half of a game last season in Athens. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

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Missouri running back Dawson Downing (28) fends off Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson in the second half of a game last season in Athens. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

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Missouri running back Dawson Downing (28) fends off Georgia defensive back Dan Jackson in the second half of a game last season in Athens. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

That still hasn’t happened, by the way. In fact, as the Bulldogs’ spring practice session heads into a third week, Georgia is still significantly over the NCAA-mandated 85-scholarship limit. So, unless there is a mass exodus between now and next fall, Jackson will remain a walk-on.

A graduate of North Hall High School and son of a dentist, Jackson gets very quiet when the discussion moves to grants-in-aid.

Asked if he had been placed on scholarship, he says, “Not at the moment.”

Asked if there have been discussions, he says. “Yeah, there have been some.”

Asked if he wanted to be put on scholarship, Jackson said, “Hope so.”

Regardless, that has done nothing to devalue Jackson’s status on the team. In fact, with junior Lewis Cine turning pro this year, Jackson is Georgia’s No. 1 free safety.

The Bulldogs have recruited defensive backs far and wide, and several former four-star and five-star prospects are competing with Jackson for playing time. But, for now, Jackson is the starter.

And starter or not, the Bulldogs know what they’re going to get out of Jackson. They’ll get a safety who runs a 4.5-second 40-yard dash. They’ll get a player who knows his assignment and tends to be in the right place on the field most of the time.

They’ll get a defender who is not afraid to “stick his head in there,” whether it’s him initiating the contact or not.

Jackson thinks it just comes natural to him, borne from years of doing daring things on Lake Lanier and playing rec ball and running back, receiver and safety for North Hall High.

“It’s just my mindset, I think, the way I was raised, the way I’ve been coached growing up to have a fearless mindset,” Jackson said. “Football, you know, you’ve got to be able to throw your body in there, I feel like, when you’re needed. I flip the switch a little bit, once I get on the field.”

Staying upright on it can sometimes be a challenge.