It didn’t take long for Jaylon Jackson to figure out that simply being a member of the Colorado football team didn’t guarantee him a spot on the travel squad.
“A lot of people don’t understand, you’re only taking four or five receivers on the travel squad,” Jackson said. “If you ain’t in that four or five, you’ve got to find a way to get on the bus.”
Now a junior, the 5-foot-10, 180-pound Jackson doesn’t get much attention because he’s not a kicker or a returner, but he is of the most valuable members of the Buffaloes’ special teams unit.
“I found my way on (the bus) and said, ‘I’m getting on special teams. I’ll make something work,’” he said.
Jackson, in his fifth season with the Buffs, takes his role on the team seriously, but he isn’t on the bus only because of his special teams play. He’s also a part of the rotation at receiver and a team leader. He was named a captain for three of CU’s six games in 2020.
“I think the thing that I’m impressed with more than anything is how big a leader he’s become on this football team,” head coach Karl Dorrell said. “He does things the right way. It’s good to have a good veteran player like that that has some notches in his belt to share some of that experience. We’re excited for him that he’s back and that he’s got a chance to have another solid year like he did a year ago.”
It was a long process to get to this point.
Multiple knee injuries limited Jackson to one game during his final two seasons at Cedar Hill (Tex.) High School. Then, in 2017, less than a week into his first camp with the Buffs, he suffered a broken ankle and missed that season. Another injury caused him to miss the first three games of the 2018 season.
Although he had surgery this past spring and didn’t practice, he has played in all 18 games for the Buffs over the past two seasons and is healthy this fall.
“That means a lot,” he said. “All glory to the man above. He’s got his hand over me, watching me. It’s a blessing to be able to get through that. A lot of people never play a full season healthy in football, no matter the position. … It was a blessing to be able to finish two seasons playing with our team and not have to worry about any injuries.”
Instead of worrying about injuries, Jackson has focused on his job with the Buffs.
On offense, he caught two passes for 17 yards and his first career touchdown last season. He’s caught 14 passes for 138 yards in his career.
“It’s lovely just being out there on the field with your brothers and your teammates,” he said. “It feels good when you get to get on stage and actually accomplish what you’ve been practicing for so long.”
He feels the same about his efforts on special teams, which have not only helped the Buffs but have been noticed by others. In a vote of Pac-12 coaches last year, Jackson was named second-team all-conference as a special teams player.
“It’s something that a lot of people look over and I think it’s still the same amount of work,” he said. “You’ve got to go out there and beat the man in front of you. I think that (honor) was a big accomplishment. I think that also helped guys on our team want to do special teams more.”
Jackson has certainly enjoyed it and he can’t wait to make an impact again this season.
“There’s a lot of energy on special teams that a lot of people miss,” he said. “Somebody makes a big hit or somebody fumbled, or muffed the ball. There are game-changing plays on special teams.”
A quick look at key positions on the CU special teams:
Kickers: Freshman Cole Becker joined the Buffs over the summer after graduating from high school and put together a great camp. The only scholarship kicker on the roster, he was nearly perfect through the first several weeks of practice and is also expected to handle kickoffs. Walk-on Evan Price took over as the Buffs’ kicker last year and gives them a high-quality backup option. Mac Willis was the kickoff specialist in 2020.
Punters: Before last year, Josh Watts, from Australia, had never played American football. He wound up handling all the punting duties for the Buffs. He got better as the year went along and averaged 44.0 yards per punt during the last three games.
Returners: Receiver Dimitri Stanley is back as the Buffs top returner and figures to settle into that role again. The Buffs have several options at kick returner, as well as punt returner, including receivers La’Vontae Shenault and Brenden Rice, running backs Jarek Broussard and Deion Smith and cornerback Christian Gonzalez.
Snappers: Derek Bedell won the job a year ago as a redshirt freshman. Now in his third season with the program, Bedell won another competition for the job this month. The Buffs also have confidence in true freshman Cameron Warchuck.
Projected depth chart
Position First team Second team
PK Cole Becker, Fr., 6-3, 220 Evan Price, So., 6-1, 180
P Josh Watts, Jr., 6-4, 200 Noah Hubbard, Fr., 6-3, 170
HOLD Matt Lynch, Sr., 6-5, 245 Watts
SNAP Derek Bedell, Fr., 6-3, 215 Cameron Warchuck, Fr., 6-0, 235
KOR Brenden Rice, Fr., 6-3, 205 La’Vontae Shenault, Fr., 6-2, 190
PR Dimitri Stanley, So.., 6-0, 195 Rice
Snapshot: CU special teams
Five to watch
Cole Becker, Fr.: The true freshman is the only place kicker on scholarship and he put together a great camp. He’s expected to handle place kicking and kickoff duties.
Derek Bedell, Fr.: He took over as the primary snapper last season and then won a competition for that job this offseason.
Jaylon Jackson, Jr.: Plays on all the special teams units and earned second-team all-Pac-12 honors for his efforts in 2020.
Dimitri Stanley, So.: This will be Stanley’s third season as the Buffs’ primary punt returner. He’s been steady in that job and has game-breaking potential.
Josh Watts, Jr.: Enters his second year as the Buffs’ punter. He got better as the 2020 season went along and had an “outstanding” camp, according to coach Karl Dorrell.
Rankings Avg. Pac-12 National
Field goal % 60.0 11-tie 102
Punting avg. 41.3 7 76
Kickoff returns 19.6 6 73
Kickoff return def. 22.8 9 89
Punt returns 14.4 4 11
Punt return def. 8.6 6 83
Numbers to know
7.18: Career punt return average for Dimitri Stanley (17 for 122), who has handled 17 of the Buffs’ 20 punt returns over the last two seasons.
8: Years since CU’s last kickoff return for touchdown, by Nelson Spruce on Nov. 16, 2013, against California.
15: Career field goals made, on 18 attempts, for sophomore Evan Price, who goes into the season as the backup kicker. He’s also 25-for-25 on extra point attempts.
34.6: Percent of Josh Watts’ punts (nine of 26) that he landed inside the opponents’ 20-yard line during the last four games of the 2020 season.
45: Snaps handled by Derek Bedell in 2020. In his first season in that role, he had 24 field goal/PAT snaps and 21 punt snaps with no issues.