When Zykiem Jackson was called up from the junior varsity football team to start at quarterback for the Sumter High School varsity midway through the 2015 season, then first-year head coach Mark Barnes loved Jackson's ability to run the football and make decisions on the fly. He knew throwing the football was a work in progress.
Twenty-five starts later, 21 of them victories, Barnes has no concerns when the senior puts the football in the air. In fact, he encourages it.
"Zykiem has worked so hard to make himself a better passer," Barnes said. "He's always been a good decision maker, and his ability to both run and throw the football causes defenses a lot of problems."
The defensive unit for West Florence can attest to that. Jackson completed nine of 12 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 48 yards on 12 carries in the Gamecocks' 44-6 victory on Friday in Florence.
Because of his performance, Jackson has been selected as The Sumter Item Offensive Player of the Week. SHS offensive guard Kurt Lewis is the Offensive Lineman of the Week, Clarendon Hall defensive end Ben Corbett is the Defensive Player of the Week and Saints placekicker Jeffrey Warren is the Special Teams Player of the Week.
The quartet will be honored at the weekly meeting of the Sumter Touchdown Club presented by FTC on Friday. The meeting will be held at the Swan Lake Visitors Center beginning at 7:15 a.m. The visitors center is located inside the gates of Swan Lake-Iris Gardens on West Liberty Street.
The guest speaker on Friday will be former Clemson tight end Ben Hall.
Jackson made some nice passes in the win over WF, putting the football where his receivers could make plays on the ball for touchdowns. Then there were a couple where he just got the ball in the receiver's hands and let his legs do the work.
"I feel like I've developed a lot as a passer," said Jackson, who has led Sumter to a 6-1 overall record and a 2-0 record in Region VI-5A. "I feel more comfortable making all of the throws and I've gotten better staying in the pocket and making all of my reads. My offensive line has done a great job protecting me and my wide receivers are really good."
Jackson's first touchdown pass was a 27-yarder to wide receiver Keshawn Croskey. Jackson placed it up high so Croskey could go get it in the corner of the end zone.
"We practice that a lot," Jackson said. "He's a big body and I put it up there so he can make a play."
Jackson's next TD pass didn't require nearly as much touch. He threw a pass in the flat to wide receiver Anthony Dinkins-McCall at the line of scrimmage. He slipped one defender and used a block by fellow wide receiver Quron Vaughn to take off on a 90-yard touchdown pass.
Jackson later his Dinkins-McCall on a slant across the middle for a 49-yard scoring pass.
"I wouldn't have had a lot of confidence making that pass as a sophomore," Jackson said.
His other TD pass was a 9-yarder to wide receiver Jalen Rouse.
Lewis, who plays right guard, graded out at 76 percent as Sumter had 471 yards of total offense. Along with 252 team passing yards, the Gamecocks ran for 215 yards.
“I felt like I had a great game,” Lewis said. “I just tried to maintain my blocks and make sure I was in the right position at the right time.”
Corbett had 17 tackles, 10 of them solo stops, in Clarendon Hall's 53-26 victory over Coastal Christian Prep on Friday.
He also had a quarterback sack and a tackle for loss.
With CH playing 8-man football, the defensive end has a lot more responsibility.
"You have to stay disciplined and stay home," said Corbett, who leads the team with 113 tackles in eight games. "You have to make sure not to jump inside and try to make the tackle there. Your job is to protect that side of the field."
Warren booted a pair of field goals for the Saints. He connected on a 25-yarder late in the first half to give CH a 25-14 halftime lead. The other was a 35-yarder with two minutes left in the game for Clarendon Hall's final score.