I was in the stands on Friday night at Citizens Field watching the Gainesville High football team playing an opponent.
I was watching the quarterback and seeing a style of football I hadn’t seen before.
I was used to a ball carrier taking a would-be tackler head on, smashing into him with lowered shoulder in an effort to bull him over and make yardage.
This football player would fake a handoff on a quarterback keeper, and head straight up the middle, sidestepping defenders and finessing his way into the end zone.
One of his passes (he was left handed) down the left sideline led the receiver with a slight upward tilt to the spiral and was right on target.
I was new in Gainesville (I’d arrived in town two days before the start of my junior year) and I soon came to know he was Jackie Eckdahl.
The Gainesville High School football team played a game at mid-season in Tennessee against Chattanooga Central High School (the #1 team in the state) and won 7-6.
Central scored that touchdown later in the second half and was going for the tie with an extra point.
Gainesville High’s defense dug in and, apparently, by design, on the snap, Jackie went up and over the backs of his teammates to block the point.
At the end of the season he was named to the All-American football team.
Later that school year I made the varsity baseball team and was on the squad with Jackie (he played first base) and some of the football players.
He was a nice guy, not cocky or arrogant, just confident.
After school sometime he married his high school sweetheart. They lived in a small frame house on some land outside of town.
I went by once and borrowed his canoe and returned it later that afternoon.
After high school he played football at the University of Florida and as a sophomore became the Gators’ starting quarterback.
A few games into the season he got his leg broken and I’m not exactly sure what happened to him after that.
I still try to follow the Gators and every now and then in the sports section of my local newspaper I’ll see his name.