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But the namesake with whom Jackson is most frequently compared is Herschel Walker, whose family calls him Bo. Both Bo's have a small-town Southern upbringing, and both have sprinter's speed and claim to prefer track to football. Jackson's and Walker's dimensions are uncannily similar (6' 1", about 220 pounds), they wear the same number (34) and both had startling freshman debuts.
Still, the question remains: Who's better? Says Dye, "I don't think Bo's any stronger or faster, but I do think he has a little better ability to make you miss and a little better balance." Jackson is conceded to be a better blocker than Walker and the better athlete and to be more willing to turn upfield, if for no other reason than that Jackson has fewer carries per game and doesn't have to worry about pacing himself by heading out-of-bounds to avoid punishment.
Then again, as the deep back in the Georgia I, Walker was called upon more frequently and predictably than Jackson is in Auburn's wishbone, in which he's just one of several options.
Dye figures on providing Jackson with perhaps 10 more carries a game this season than last, when he averaged 15. If Jackson can somehow maintain the same yards per crack average, he ought to turn in 175 yards a game. "When I came here, I was a vertical runner," he says. "Now I run tilted at the shoulders, with authority. My freshman year I was running scared. But after I got hit in the 'Bama game and fumbled, I said, 'No more. I'm not gonna take no more licks.' You can't be a good back if guys dog you out every time you got the ball."
Jackson tried dismissing the Walker parallels his freshman season, as soon as they were drawn. "Nobody can be Herschel Walker but Herschel Walker," he said.
If Jackson really were a Walker clone, he'd have effortlessly captivated the state the way Walker held all Georgia in his thrall. But athletes from Auburn, the perennial stepchild, don't just "take" the state of Alabama. "I grew up 'Roll Tide,' " Jackson says. "I had my mind set on going to Alabama. Two weeks before the signing date Auburn wasn't in the picture, but it wasn't out of the picture either. I wanted to stay in-state. And an Alabama coach said, 'There's no place else to go. We want you, but I don't think you'll see any playing time till the last of your sophomore or the beginning of your junior year.' I said I wasn't gonna waste two years of my life. When I told the recruiter, he tried to change his story vice versa. I said, 'No, you're out of the picture.' "
While the Alabama recruiter told him that going to Auburn would mean losing to 'Bama for four years, Jackson's mother was more worried about some of the things—drugs, guns—a few players had gotten into in Tuscaloosa. "Me also," Jackson says. Besides, Auburn needed backs.
On the second series of the 1982 season opener against Wake Forest, Jackson went into the game. "Don't be nervous," James told him. "When we pitch you the ball, haul ass." Before the day was over, Bo would go 43 yards up the sideline for a touchdown. Against Alabama, later in Bo's freshman year, Auburn faced fourth-and-goal on the one-yard line with 2:30 left and the Tide ahead 22-17. Jackson took the handoff up over the line, found himself stopped, but wriggled forward the requisite extra smidgen. With the 23-22 victory the Tigers had beaten 'Bama for the first time since 1972, and the balance of power in the state, which is to say the balance of football, found itself reversed. "Whatever that recruiter said got Bo to go just one inch more," says Auburn sports information director David Housel. "And that inch has made all the difference."
Last fall, with tornadoes baying at the outskirts of Birmingham and 'Bama having just taken a 20-16 lead, Jackson dashed 71 yards to score as the Tigers won again, 23-20. Earlier in the game he'd run 69 yards for a TD.
Now, for the first time in recent memory, people in Birmingham are talking more frequently about the Tigers than about the Tide. We're talking sea change here.