POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Nov 1, 2012
If Hawaii assistant football coach Chris Demarest were to start a baseball team, one of his top picks would be freshman Marrell Jackson.
"He can play center field, he can hit and he can steal bases," Demarest said.
Jackson's trifecta of skills -- roaming the middle, delivering big hits and creating takeaways -- serve well in his role as the Warriors' starting free safety.
In the past week's game against Colorado State, Jackson made nine tackles, forced two fumbles and blocked a punt.
"He's really doing a nice job," defensive coordinator Thom Kaumeyer said.
Demarestt added: "You have to realize at this time last year, he was playing high school football. To put him in a starting role in college, against major people, is a big step. He's taking it on. He's slowly getting better.
Demarest, who was the point recruiter, envisioned Jackson becoming a playmaker at UH. During his senior season at Miramar High in Florida, Jackson intercepted 10 passes.
"Any time you get 10 interceptions in a year, you're doing something," Demarest said. "I don't care if they're throwing it right at you, you're doing something right."
Jackson said the key is to read his keys.
At Miramar, Jackson said, "I was roaming the field and reading the quarterback and reading my keys. If you can do that, good things can happen."
Jackson chose UH because he wanted both a new start and familiarity.
"The (man-press) defense here is similar to the defense we ran in high school," Jackson said. "The big difference was the terminology. I had to learn to pick that up."
Demarest said Jackson faced a high level of talent in practices and games.
"Florida players are playing with other players who are going to the SEC or ACC week in and week out," Demarest said. "If he's able to do those things, you know he has an upside. If he comes to a place like here, he has a chance to be very productive."
Jackson admittedly adjusted slowly.
"The nice thing about Marrell is he gets better every week," Demarest said. "What you want to do is look for a starting point, and then you look at how they progress throughout the season. He has had his best game last week."
Jackson has started the past two games. He will be tested in this week's road game against Fresno State's spread-passing attack.
"I'm starting to feel comfortable," Jackson said. "When you do what you're supposed to do and listen to your coaches, good things will happen. It's the coaches' way or the highway."
Jackson's duties have expanded to special teams. Jackson complements John Hardy-Tuliau, a kick-blocking specialist.
"He has long strides and long arms," Demarest said of 6-foot Jackson. "He gets to the ball very fast."
WRs getting healthy
The Warriors appear to be getting back to full strength at the receiver positions.
Trevor Davis, who missed the past two games because of a hamstring injury, practiced with the first-team offense on Wednesday.
Chris Gant, who is recovering from an arm injury, practiced while wearing the orange jersey for players who are allowed limited contact.
With Darius Bright reinstated to the team, the Warriors will travel with at least eight receivers today. They brought only six receivers on last week's trip. That forced the Warriors to use tight ends as wideouts on red-zone plays.
Wide receiver Billy Ray Stutzmann remains concerned about numerous relatives who live in Long Island, N.Y,, which was in the path of superstorm Sandy. Stutzmann said they lost power.
"The two hours of practice here are a good distraction," Stutzmann said.