Six years ago Sanderson High senior Emmanuel Jackson sat in his Carroll Middle School sixth-grade science class and heard a teacher he remembers only as “Miss Goins” explain education in a manner that spurred his life path.
“She said, ‘To be a good student, you don’t have to be the smartest. You have to be a good listener,’” recalled Jackson. “I’ve kept that with me.”
As a high school freshman, Jackson also learned listening to coaches applied to his fledgling track career.
And now he’s about to graduate with a 4.55 grade-point average, he’s president of the Sanderson’s Image Club for young minority men and he’s one of the top prep hurdlers in the nation. His combined academic and athletic success helped land the 5-foot-11, 160-pounder a scholarship to a Virginia in a sport with limited financial aid opportunities. In fact, his academic focus helped him decide on Virginia.
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“The campus was beautiful and my (future) teammates made me feel at home,” Jackson said. “When I woke up the next morning, I forgot I was a recruit. I felt like I was a student getting ready for class.”
His track prowess also helped him decide to major in biology with the ambition to pursue a sports science career.
“I’m interested in how the body works,” Jackson said. “Since I’m a hurdler and everything is so technical, I’m always trying to figure out what I’m doing. The body wasn’t meant to move the way we run the hurdles.”
Nevertheless, Jackson has proven to be a problem solver at hurdling techniques. He was the N.C High School Athletic Association 4A state meet runner-up in the 110-meter highs last year to his long-time friend, Durham Hillside’s Marcus Krah. Jackson edged Krah in the prelims, but Krah avenged the result in the finals. They ran personal records, Krah clocking 14.15 seconds and Jackson 14.19.
They haven’t met yet this year in the outdoor season, but Jackson added with a grin: “We always run PRs against each other.”
Later in the summer at a USA Track and Field Junior Olympics Regional meet, Jackson cracked the 14-second barrier at 13.93. He ran so smoothly he felt he was on TV.
“You watch the best hurdlers on TV, and it’s hard to tell they’re even hurdling,” Jackson said of skimming in stride. “I like working on that.”
On Saturday in the Wake County Championships, Jackson swept the 110 hurdles and the 300 intermediates with season bests of 14.33 and 40.74.
The irony of Jackson’s national hurdles stature is he took up the event merely seeking a varsity letter. He saw there were fewer participants in the hurdles and viewed it as the best avenue to letter as a freshman.
“He had to work at it, but he got better and better,” said Sanderson head coach Raymond Hammond, who also credited the work of hurdles coach Troy Baker. “He was a sponge. He started to enjoy it and it became his signature event. He went after it when he saw it was something he could do.”
Jackson may not have begun a natural hurdler, but Hammond said he always has been a natural team leader, although his style is a quiet one by example.
“The kids follow him,” Hammond said. “He doesn’t say much, but he’s not as quiet as he was as a freshman. Everything then was, ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘Yes ma’am.’ He never raises an eyebrow. He does what needs to get done.”
Or, as “Miss Goins” taught him in middle school, he listens.