By DOUG ZALESKI
Brandon Jackson isn’t old enough to have seen Daniel Jackson play tennis in high school at Delta. But he knows all about his uncle’s achievements and is taking dead aim on surpassing one of them as he finishes his career with the Eagles in the coming weeks.
Daniel is tied for 12th in Delta boys tennis history with 72 victories, achieved in the early 2000s when he was a three-time All-State doubles player.
Brandon moved within one win of Daniel’s total Tuesday, winning at No. 1 doubles as the Eagles beat Mt. Vernon to wrap up the Hoosier Heritage Conference championship. Brandon will have an opportunity to tie Daniel’s total and possibly surpass it this week in the Delta Sectional.
“We have a friendly competition, so if I can pass his total, I can rub it in his face a little bit,” Brandon said. “It would be fun. I definitely want to get it.”
The two recently texted with each other, Brandon letting his uncle know he was coming after him.
“(Daniel) said something like, ‘Don’t break your collarbone again,’ ” Brandon said.
Ah, the collarbone. Brandon broke a collarbone in a fall before his freshman season began. He came back by the end of the year and posted a 6-1 record, but if not for the accident, he already would have moved past his uncle.
Daniel lives in Colorado, and Brandon has had a few chances to hit with him while in high school. The first time they played was when Daniel took Brandon to the Delta courts about 4 years ago.
Daniel noticed his nephew had a less-than-ideal attitude then, and would get disgusted by bad shots, dropping his head to pout. Brandon says he’s a perfectionist and would let those disappointing shots control his actions.
Daniel saw that and tried to give him advice on being more positive. Brandon said at the time he wasn’t all that accepting of the advice.
“I kind of understood what he was saying, but my freshman year is when I really started to understand you have to have a good mental game to be strong at tennis,” Brandon said.
Brandon said his uncle helped shape the game he has now. Brandon plays a power game with big serves, overhead smashes, and aggressive action at the net. Those were Daniel’s strengths, too.
“Coach (Tim Cleland) always talks about how (Daniel’s) overhead range was crazy (good), and how I was gonna surpass it,” Brandon said.
Cleland said Brandon has lived up to that during his career. Cleland says Brandon has “a live arm” which plays well on serves and overheads. Plus good movement on the court allows Brandon to have deep range in tracking down balls.
Part of Brandon’s strong play at the net is because of his use of a continental grip. Some players, Cleland noted, have trouble getting a feel for the grip, but Brandon learned it at the age of 10.
It’s a neutral grip that allows players at the net to quickly attack the ball from the forehand or backhand side without a grip change.
“When you’re at the net, you don’t have the luxury of changing grips,” Cleland said. “The ball is on you too fast. Younger players without strong wrists and forearms have trouble with that grip for a while, so you don’t usually see young kids understand and use that grip. He bought into it early through some instruction.”
Brandon’s game is perfect for doubles because he relishes the action at the net. That’s one of the reasons he’s played doubles three of his four years in high school, earning All-State status in 2018.
But even as a singles player in 2019 when he played No. 2 for the Eagles, he posted a 22-4 record.
Jackson has thrived in the face of several adjustments during his career. After playing doubles as a freshman and sophomore, he switched to singles as a junior, then back to doubles this year.
“He did a good job in singles, but he’s definitely more comfortable in doubles because serving and net play are what he’s always enjoyed,” Cleland said.
Jackson, 20-2 this year, says he’s a lot more comfortable in doubles, not just because it better suits his individual skills but because a partner helps him with the mental aspects of a match.
“Singles is a harder mental game because it’s just you out there,” he said. “If you’re not mentally there that day, then you’re probably not going to do well.”
In this weird year of 2020, Jackson also has been forced to adjust to a new doubles partner twice. He began the year playing with Walker Boyle and they posted a 10-1 record (now 11-1 after Boyal returned to the lineup against Mr. Vernon). But when Boyle had to self-quarantine because he came into close contact with a student at Muncie Career Center who had coronavirus, freshman Dalton Royal stepped in as Jackson’s partner. They’ve built a 9-1 record.
“I remember the day Brandon found out (Boyle was out) and you could see his face kind of drop,” Cleland said. “He was disappointed because he and Walker were starting to jell really well. But we were able to fast track Dalton Royal, who has good talent but didn’t have the experience of playing high school doubles at the level Brandon wants to play.”
Despite the unknowns, the season has gone well for Jackson and Royal. Jackson showed a lot of patience with him, and Royal had the personality and fortitude to get the job done, according to Cleland.
“Dalton is really good for a freshman, and that made the transition (easier),” Jackson said. “He doesn’t have the experience (of Boyle), but he’s holding up well.”
Royal said he appreciates Jackson’s patience with him, never getting mad about a misplay and always trying to be a leader, even accepting blame when it’s not his fault.
“The experience I’ve gotten from playing varsity with him is crazy,” Royal said. “What he brings to the table is just crazy. I never got that when I played JV.”
Jackson likes the space he’s in as he goes through his senior season in high school. He says he’s learned to take one day at a time and not worry about things that happened in the past or what might be ahead of him. His goal is to be his best on and off the court each day.
“I worry a lot less,” he said. “It wasn’t like big worries; I got worried over small things. In tennis, if a team was really good I’d worry about what we were going to do instead of thinking about our gameplan and what their weaker shots were.
“I used to worry about if people liked you or not. I really couldn’t care less outside of my friend group if you like me or not. It’s not my problem.”