July 7, 1997
An Educated Choice Jackson Forsakes Baseball for U-Md., Football
By Josh Barr, Special to The Washington Post
By now, Tony Jackson could have been a professional baseball player. A center fielder with speed, size and ability, he likely would have been taken in the upper rounds of the Major League Baseball free agent draft earlier this month, received a signing bonus in excess of $100,000 and been starting along the road to the major leagues.
However, Jackson, who recently graduated from Wilde Lake High School in Columbia, has chosen to delay his pursuit of a professional athletic career. Instead, the 6-foot-2, 195-pound 18-year-old will attend the University of Maryland on a football scholarship. He also plans to play baseball at Maryland.
Saturday night, Jackson will play at Maryland's Byrd Stadium for the first time -- as a member of the Maryland All-Stars in the fifth annual Chesapeake Classic high school all-star game. The game showcases the top recently graduated seniors from Maryland against their counterparts from Northern Virginia.
Jackson was one of the best baseball players in the Washington area this past spring. He batted .525, hit 10 home runs, drove in 35 runs and had a slugging percentage of 1.203. He was intentionally walked 19 times and was thrown out only once in 35 stolen base attempts.
All of those numbers drew the attention of professional scouts, several of whom attended Wilde Lake games to watch Jackson play. One scout said most teams projected Jackson as talented enough to be taken in the first five rounds of the amateur draft.
However, Jackson had already signed a national letter-of-intent to accept a football scholarship from Maryland, and he let it be known that he intended to go to college. On June 4, the Cleveland Indians selected Jackson in the 33rd round on the draft's second day. But no serious contract negotiations ever took place.
"He is a major athlete type," said one scout, who asked not to be named. "A lot of people compared him to [Baltimore Orioles' first-round pick Darnell] McDonald in physical stature. . . . There were a couple scouts who put some really big numbers on him grading-wise, but the word was that it was an impossible sign -- his signability was zero."
Some teams talked to Jackson about the possibility of playing football for Maryland and playing minor league baseball during the summer, which is allowed under NCAA rules. However, Jackson said he believed such a scenario would detract from his schoolwork.
"I was set on going to school -- that was my first priority," said Jackson, who was a second-team All-Met in football and baseball. "It was exciting [to think about the draft], but I have to have my priorities straight. If I jumped to pro baseball, there are no guarantees that I would succeed. . . . The best thing for me is to go to school and keep my head on straight."
The same skills that helped Jackson in baseball have allowed him to succeed in football. His strong hands and good anticipation make him a standout at safety and wide receiver.
In his senior season at Wilde Lake, Jackson had 124 tackles, four interceptions and recovered two fumbles, returning both for touchdowns. Offensively, he had 26 receptions for 485 yards and 4 touchdowns. Though Jackson will play wide receiver Saturday, Maryland offensive coordinator Craig Johnson said Jackson will get a look on offense and defense when the Terrapins begin practice in August.
"He is an explosive player with big potential," Johnson said. "He catches the ball extremely well and he hits extremely well on defense. He is just very explosive in everything he does."