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Wednesday, September 8, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Special To The Seattle Times

Editor's note: Michael Jackson, a native of Pasco who now resides in Kirkland, lived a football dream in the 1970s and '80s, becoming a star linebacker for the University of Washington and the NFL Seahawks. Jackson's two sons also became prep football stars, and as his youngest son, Justin, begins his senior year at Kentridge, we asked Michael to write about what high-school football has meant to him.

Our quarterback threw a swing pass to me going down the left sideline. I reached out and caught the ball with one hand.

As soon as I tucked it away, defenders were all over me. I cut back to the middle, but more defenders arrived. I picked up blockers, twisting and turning to evade tacklers. Then I sprinted down our sideline, finally diving across the goal line with a defender clinging to my ankles. We ended up winning the game by two touchdowns.

It was just one play, and it happened more than 20 years ago, but to me it is still what high-school football is all about. That play, on a football field in the Tri-Cities when I played for Pasco High School, shows that if you have enough imagination anything is possible.

I went on to be a linebacker for the University of Washington and the Seattle Seahawks. I went on to hear thousands cheer at Husky Stadium, the Rose Bowl and the Kingdome. But for me, the dream started in high school.

My days as a prep football player gave me the opportunity to be inventive. To dream and develop my skills. To test and prove myself.

And as I have watched my two sons play ball, I see the same thing applying to their lives. Christopher and Justin have been able to find out how tough they are on the inside. They have been fortunate enough to play for a program that has regained the winning edge, but they also have had the pressure of being sons of Michael Jackson.

When Chris began his career at Kentridge, he earned a starting position at middle linebacker and called the defensive signals. It reminding me of my freshman year at UW, when I was in exactly the same situation. The next year the team went undefeated until the playoffs and Chris earned all-conference.

During Chris' senior year, my youngest son, Justin, joined him on the varsity. What I had dreamed of seeing - them on the field at the same time - came true. However, Justin played behind a senior who didn't care to give up his position to anyone, even a Jackson.

Chris eventually earned a full scholarship to UCLA. Justin came into his own during his junior year. He had a huge problem facing him. People knew that Justin's older brother had been an all-state selection, and the name Jackson added even more pressure.

Justin had to fight for everything. I watched as other teams double-teamed him on defense and held him as he tried to release into pass patterns from his tight-end position. This only made him work harder.

As Justin enters his final season, I notice how determined he is. I see that he wants to be remembered by Kentridge fans. It will be interesting to see what he does this year. My desire is to see him join his brother at the next level. But there is more to it than just wanting to see them play football. I would love to see them get their college degrees. That is where life really begins.

I never wanted to push them into playing sports. In fact, I tried to discourage them from playing. I had to use my body to further my education, but I felt my children were smart enough to go to college on academic rides.

But since they have chosen to play football, I have tried to be there whenever they wanted to talk about sports or life. I have watched them grow and have seen them learn some of the same lessons I learned.

It takes me back. Back to that game in the Tri-Cities. Back to those lessons I learned so long ago.

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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