Story by Mallory Tucker, Staff Writer
Family and football often go hand in hand, as success in both comes from similar attributes – attributes like hard work, dedication, chemistry and faith in your own abilities. For Jonathan Jackson and Shea Jackson, family, football and hard work are daily norms. Jonathan’s on-field message easily relates to his family life, too.
“It would be really easy to get down on yourself and on everybody else and start pointing fingers and stuff,” Jonathan said. “But that’s not what good teams do. You have to keep going and playing the course and keep working at it. That’s the only way that things will turn around. You’ve got to have confidence in yourself and the things you’ve done to prepare.”
As parents of two small children and full-time students, Jonathan and Shea face struggles everyday that most students don’t. Add Jonathan’s football schedule into the mix and more time constraints arise. Despite the difficulties, the couple works to better their lives and the lives of their children – and to follow their passions.
“I know he doesn’t have to play football, but we love it,” Shea said.
Leading the OVC in total tackles last season. Weighing 211 pounds filling out his 5’ 11” stature, the linebacker isn’t to be taken lightly when his shoulder pads are on. But when his helmet is off and his work is done for the day, he changes roles. He is no longer an elite Division I athlete; he is a father. He is a boyfriend to Shea, and he is a student trying to maintain his grades.
Jonathan’s football story began long before he was ranked the fourth highest tackler in all of FCS football, and before he was named a preseason All-American. Jonathan’s story started years ago just 30 miles down the road in Mayfield, Kentucky. He began playing football in third grade, and he went on to play at Mayfield High School, where he was a four-year starter and took four trips to the state finals, two of which ended with championship titles. He was a First-Team All-Stater, an All-Region Player of the Year and earned countless more individual awards with 5,605 rushing yards, 92 touchdowns and 601 career tackles during his four years at Mayfield.
Jonathan and Shea’s family story started almost seven years ago when they began dating the summer before his freshman year at Mayfield. By Jonathon’s senior year, Shea was pregnant with their first child, Ariyana. Jonathan was a small town football hero. He was also an ESPN.com two-star recruit who received scholarship offers from every OVC school in addition to Arkansas State and Western Kentucky. The two latter offers were not honored after coaching changes within the program, but it didn’t matter to Jonathan. He knew where he belonged – at Murray State, near his family.
“I feel like if I went far off to college it would worry me; not being close to my kids and my girlfriend,” Jonathan said. “I didn’t want to be away from them. I would not like that.”
Shea, Ariyana and Jonathan Jr. still live in Mayfield, Kentucky, and Shea attends WKCTC’s nursing program and works part time during the day while the kids are at daycare. Jonathan has an apartment in Murray, but said he might as well commute since he’s in Mayfield nearly every day. Early mornings and late nights aren’t easy, but you’ll never hear the couple complain about parenthood.
“Waking up to them everyday is what motivates me to go to class and try to do good on my tests and things like that,” Jonathan said. “In the weight room and during games – if I’m tired, during meetings, if I’m tired – I try to be as attentive as I can because I know that’s not an excuse. I kind of put myself in that predicament. I just want to do what’s best for them and get my degree.”
Shea maintains her independence through school and work while supporting Jonathan in his football pursuits and taking care of her children.
“I respect it, because I want him to succeed and I want him to better himself for our kids so they can have something one day,” Shea said. “And I try to do everything I can, too.”
Already attending games and roughhousing with Jonathan, Shea said it’s hard not to imagine football in the children’s future. Ariyana is starting to understand what’s going on when she’s at Roy Stewart Stadium watching her father, and Jonathan Jr. turned one just weeks ago and already weighs 35 pounds.
“He’s so big,” Jonathan said of his son. “He’s huge. He’s going to be bigger than I am. I got him a little football already and he’s already active. He’s not walking yet, but he’s trying to. He’s going to be around it, definitely, so hopefully he’ll fall in love with it the way I did.”
Shea isn’t as worried about her son’s football career, though.
“If he doesn’t end up doing that, that’s fine too,” she said. “I want him to do what he wants to do.”
Parenting, studying and managing work and football isn’t a walk in the park, by any means, but the kids keep them focused, and family support helps. As put simply by Shea: ‘We just manage.’ While children may not have been in their original plan, they’re grateful all the same.
“I definitely don’t regret it,” Jonathan said. “Everything happens for a reason. God has a purpose for everything. They’re two blessings. Who knows what I’d be doing if I didn’t have those two. They keep me walking a narrow path and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Even if it is as hard as it is. It just made me have to grow up faster than most people.”