CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Nate Jackson did not spend a lot of time on the wrestling mat this season.
The Marian Catholic graduate and Indiana University recruit only went the distance twice at 170 pounds, normally winning his matches either by pin or technical fall. He was only taken down once and gave up one reversal. He finished 39-1 and won the Class 2A state title. His lone loss was a disqualification in the East Suburban Catholic Conference finals when he slammed a wrestler.
He also battled some of the state's best in Class 3A and won. In addition, he beat the Indiana state champ at 170 in a postseason match-up, topping Center Grove's Sean Mappes 18-9.
For his dominance, Jackson is The Times Male Athlete of the Year.
"When I got to the state meet, I just wanted to keep on winning and I didn't think about pinning my way through," Jackson said. "I kind of just went out and did my thing. I started getting tech falls and pins. I was very happy with the way I won. I just thank God for that."
Jackson wrestled at 112 as a freshman, 140 as a sophomore and he was fifth at 152 in the Class 3A state tournament as a junior. Marian coach Dan Jordan said Jackson found the right weight after moving around.
"He was always to be between weights and had to wrestle up," Jordan said. "Everything just clicked for him this year. He was the perfect weight, and it clicked because Nate made it click by dedicating himself."
Jackson said a state title was on his mind, but he knew he had to get better and wrestled all last summer.
"I wanted to win state, but I knew I had to put more time in," Jackson said. "Last year was the first time I went all year and I guess it paid off. I went up against a lot of great guys and I think that made me get better."
Jackson's dedication was such that he passed up participating with the Marian Catholic forensic team. He participated in the group interpretation and the team was second in the state competition in 2009, state champs in 2010 and third his junior year (2011).
Jackson said one of the toughest mental tests came as a junior when the team had to portray Harper Lee's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel "To Kill A Mockingbird." Jackson played Tom Robinson, an African American in Depression-era Maycomb, Ala., who was accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell. Attorney Atticus Finch defended Robinson, who was not guilty, but was murdered after the trial.
"I had to really go back and get into character, and that was hard," Jackson said. "You had to get the emotions down, then you had to memorize the lines. I went back and watched several times. We had the pressure to get it perfect for our team. We had great people and great coaching"
Jackson said they were aware of the social injustices, but also had to focus on their roles.
"I, as Tom Robinson, am on trial for something I didn't do and I have to get into the role, but I as Nate Jackson, know I am not guilty, but I am to get shot 17 times at the end," Jackson said. "We had to put ourselves in those people's shoes and become them."
He said he had to also think about the Finch role, which was played by actor Gregory Peck in the movie version.
"This man — in the South — a white man, he was doing what was right, defending Tom Robinson, but it was unpopular," Jackson said. "He won, but he could have been killed too because of what he did."
On the mat, he was also a four-year champ at the prestigious Geneseo Invitational.
"It is one of my favorite meets because it's two days and a nice trip," Jackson said. "You get great wrestlers from across the state and you get some guys from Iowa."
Jackson, who was an Illinois Kids Wrestling Federation champion, won his four state finals matches in Champaign with two technical falls, a decision and a pin over Lemont's Eric Kirkman in 3 minutes, 29 seconds for the championship. His closest match was a 6-3 quarterinal win over Triad's Jake Tindall.
"That was big because he was No. 1 all year," Jackson said. "It was a tough match and I knew he liked to wrestle on the bottom, so I tried to stay on my feet."