Jackson Daniel

Loganville’s Jackson Daniel (18) had a breakout season in 2018 as a sophomore, but a hamstring injury sidelined him for most of the season in 2019. Daniel hopes to stay healthy in 2020 and be as productive as he was in 2018. 

High school football player previews: Now that the Georgia High School Association is allowing players to participate in preseason workouts, the prospect of a football season in the fall has improved greatly. As a result, area players will soon be hard at work in the weight room and on the practice field preparing for the new year. Each week during the summer, The Walton Tribune will highlight the top returning players who are expected to make a major impact for their respective teams.

After an outstanding sophomore season, in which he led his team and finished runner-up in the county in receiving, Loganville’s Jackson Daniel entered his 11th-grade year with sky-high expectations. 

But his body suddenly betrayed him, and he’s had a hard time staying healthy enough to make an impact for his team.

Just days before the Red Devils opening game of the state football playoffs in 2018, he suffered a pulled hip flexor while weight training, forcing him to miss his team’s stunning upset of unbeaten Southwest DeKalb.

Later that spring, he tore his right hamstring while playing in the final four of the state baseball tournament. He recovered enough to begin offseason workouts for football, but he reinjured his hamstring while running sprints. He didn’t get back on the field until the sixth game of the year.

Two weeks ago, while warming up with some straight-ahead sprints, he felt a pop in his right leg. Once again, his hamstring forced him off the field.

“It’s been really hard,” Daniel said of his rash of injuries. “You do all you can to get ready and then something happens and you can’t play.”

His doctor tells him he should be ready for the season opener against Monroe Area. But the setbacks have begun to play on his mind.

“I can’t help but think about it, wondering if it’s going to happen again,” Daniel said. “But I just try and put my head down and keep working.”

The upcoming season is critical for the Loganville receiver on so many levels. He wants to help his fellow seniors, many of whom have played together all their lives, go out a winner. But he also wants to give college coaches a reason to give him a chance on the next level.

“If I can stay healthy, I feel like I can earn a scholarship,” Daniel said. “I need to prove what I can do.”

He drew some early looks two years ago when he had 41 catches for 578 yards and seven touchdowns. But last year, he played in parts of just six games and managed 12 catches for 169 yards and a single TD. 

He knows he’ll need some big numbers this year to have a chance to extend his career. Assuming he gets healthy and the pandemic doesn’t force the season to be canceled, he should have plenty of opportunities to get his hands on the ball. 

Under center for Loganville is third year starter and good friend Tanner Greene, who has played on the same teams as Daniel since they were standouts in recreation leagues. He’s been among the top passer in the county the past two seasons.

New head coach Brad Smith will lean heavily on his experienced combo.

“If it’s fourth-and-8 or third-and-10, we know we’ll be looking for Jackson,” Smith said. “He’s not a burner but he runs precise routes and he’s got great hands.”

Daniel is hoping to use his precise patterns and secure hands to compile over 1,000 yards in receiving and 10-12 touchdowns.

But more importantly, he hopes to be on the field for the entire season.

David Johnson is a correspondent for The Walton Tribune.

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