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FOR THE LOVE OF THE GAME: Jackson dedicates many years to youth football

A wreck sidelined former Andalusia High School standout Michael Jackson’s college football career, but he didn’t sit out of the game for long.

For the past two decades, the local businessman has volunteered his time to the Andalusia Youth Football League, where he has coached his son, a nephew, and countless boys he’d never met before.

“I’ve just always loved football,” Jackson said of why he got into coaching. “There are some of the kids out there that don’t have great home lives and they need good role models. We want to help and teach life lessons through football.”

Jackson was a 1991 graduate from Andalusia High School, where he was a standout player for the Bulldogs.  He was recruited to play football at the University of Alabama, but a car wreck ended his playing career.

After a few years away from the sport, Jackson made his way back to the game in form of coaching in 1998.

When he started coaching, Jackson didn’t even have a child playing in the league.

During the 1998 season, Jackson served as the defensive coordinator for a team that only gave up one touchdown during the entire season.

“I started coaching in 1998 when my nephew was playing,” Jackson said. “I wanted to help them out because I’ve been around football my entire life.”

Most of his coaching career, Jackson has mainly coached in the Mighty Mite and Termite divisions.

Brett Holmes, who coaches with Jackson, said that the difficulties with these two groups are that they are the youngest divisions and fundamentals must be taught and stressed to be in any way successful, and create a safe environment for the kids.

“Michael and I have been friends for 30 years,” Holmes said. “His love for Andalusia is special. He is a positive role model to so many. His efforts are often overlooked and he deserves a great deal of thanks from our community.”

In 2013, Jackson developed a voluntary preseason conditioning program to help the AYFL players to be in better physical conditioning for the season.

“We do voluntary conditioning on Mondays,” Jackson said. “To give them incentive to come, we will grill or something for them every other Monday night.”

The players also go to Jackson’s gym, Andalusia Health and Fitness Center, on Tuesdays and Thursdays for summer weight lifting.

“They really enjoy being able to get in the gym and work out,” Jackson said. “We have had guest speakers come in and talk to them. Coach (Adam) Helms came in one day and gave them a really great speech. Coach (Garrett) Windham was in there working out today when we were and he was going around giving the kids fist bumps and encouraging them. The kids really love that. They look up to these high school coaches.”

Over the years as a head coach, Jackson has winning percentage over .900, but he said it isn’t all about the wins.

“Of course, we like to win, but that’s never been what it’s about,” Jackson said. “It’s all about the kids. I’ve formed some strong relationships with players that I’ve coached. I still keep in touch with them and watch them play on Friday nights. It’s really awesome when you see these kids succeed when they get to high school. I know we probably didn’t, but it’s nice to think that you had in hand in developing them.”

Jackson said that he has had many memorable moments through the years, but the 2009 championship stands out the most.

“In 2009, we were playing Crestview for the championship and we had gone back-and-forth with them all season,” Jackson said. “That night we beat the in double overtime for the championship, it was like a college atmosphere. I’ve never seen anything like it at a youth football game. Their fans and our fans were standing on the fences cheering. It was an incredible experience.”

Jackson hinted that with his youngest son, James Milton, entering his final year in the league, this could also be his last year coaching.

“I’ve been coaching my youngest son for the past six years,” Jackson said. “I’ve told my wife to give me just one more year, but I’ve said that before. I really enjoy it so much, so you never know if I will keep coaching.”

The current team that Jackson coaches has only lost one game over that time span.

“They only lost one game in five seasons,” Holmes said. “That loss came in a triple overtime game against the Greenville Tigers three years ago. Greenville left the league and Michael has not been able to avenge the loss. It still haunts him to this day.”

Jackson has also served as the vice president for the AYFL for many years and remains on the Board of Directors. He has also coached in the City of Andalusia’s recreational baseball league for the past six years.