Going into the 2019 season, it was fair to question whether linebacker Akil Jones or receiver Jaylon Jackson would ever get through a full season without injury.
Both players had dealt with numerous health issues that kept them off the field early in their careers with the Colorado Buffaloes, but both wound up having a successful 2019 season, with hopes for even more this year.
“That was amazing,” Jackson, a junior, said of playing all 12 games last season. “I was really happy about that. Being out there with my brothers was nice for a full season, it’s been a while since I got the opportunity to do that, so it was pretty good.”
Jackson had not played a full season since he was a sophomore at Cedar Hill High School in Texas in 2014. Two knee injuries limited him to one game in his last two years at Cedar Hill. Then, a broken ankle kept him out of his entire first season with the Buffs. In 2018, he missed the first three games with injury and played in five games overall.
In a reserve role last year, he caught four passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, while also excelling on special teams. He was named the team’s most improved special teams player.
“I did get that award and thank God for that,” he said. “It’s something I take pride in, special teams. They say you can’t get to the next level if you can’t play special teams, so I think that’s something that I really take pride in and I’m excited to do again this season.”
After a series of serious injuries, Jackson said it meant a lot to stay healthy, but the mental hurdle wasn’t too difficult to clear.
“It was more of just being out there, being able to do it and doing it on a consistent basis,” he said. “I think that helped me, knowing that my body can withhold that type of pain and pressure. That was pretty good.”
Jones’ injury history isn’t as extensive, but a sports hernia bothered him in 2017 and an ankle injury limited him to six games in 2018. Behind veterans early in his career, Jones played a total of 40 defensive snaps his first three years at CU.
Then, a severe laceration to his leg kept him out of most of fall camp in 2019. He played in all 12 games last year, but began the year as a backup.
Healthy throughout the second half of last season, he became a fixture in the starting lineup at inside linebacker and was named the team’s most improved defensive player.
“Definitely it’s hard,” Jones said of overcoming health issues. “But injuries happen and they’re part of the game. Once I actually started getting healthier and started getting reps and snaps, and then it’s sooner or later it just felt like I was thrown in and then I just performed to the best of my ability and it was a great turnout, I believe.”
With the start of this season two weeks away, Jones, a fifth-year senior, is projected to start at inside linebacker, while Jackson, a fourth-year junior, is expected to be in the rotation at receiver.
“It feels good overall, coming back and being able to start up a new season,” Jones said, “but really we’re just trying to pick up where we left off with those last three games of the season for our defense, specifically. We were kind of clicking on all cylinders, for the most part, and that’s really where we’re aiming to get back to and to start off where we finished off and to get better every day.”
Jackson is eager to once again be part of a receiver group that is loaded with talent, including senior KD Nixon, junior Daniel Arias and sophomore Dimitri Stanley.
“Man, our receivers room has got so much talent, it’s crazy,” Jackson said. “We’ve got guys as veterans that are knowing what to do and then we’ve got some young guys that are able to ball, as well, so I think it’s gonna be real fun being out there with our group of guys that we’ve got in our receiver room.
“I know they talk about us every year like we’ve got a nice receiver room, but this year I think we’ve really got some guys that can play ball and I’m looking forward to being out there with them.”