Jackson has more than 2,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 1,000 on Instagram, and they’re not silent observers. On game days, they wish him luck before he takes the field. They congratulate him when his team fares well. They commiserate with him when it doesn’t.
“It’s the Twitter world, man,” said Jackson, who responded to at least 20 congratulatory Tweets after last week’s defeat of Chattanooga. “When they find you, they find you…if I could respond to every last one of them I would, but sometimes there’s a lot of them.But I try to get to who I can get to.”
That responsiveness fosters a likeability for Jackson, one that’s noticed by students, alumni and staff alike.
Patrick Setzer, executive director of alumni affairs, follows Jackson on Twitter and said the QB has several traits that seem to resonate with fans.
“He is approachable, he seems very genuine, he has a compelling personal story, and he is confident in both his leadership ability and leadership responsibility,” Setzer said. “The latter, I believe, is his most significant strength as a student-athlete.”
And Jackson’s approachability extends beyond students and staff.
High school student Casey Young is a lifelong Mountaineer fan. There’s a picture of her in an App State cheerleading outfit when she was four or five, she said. And when she needed to write an article about student-athletes for her English class last year, she reached out to Jackson on Twitter.
“I had a pretty good amount of questions, but Jamal answered every single one,” Young said. “I labeled some as ‘extra’ because those were not as important for my article, but he still answered them. When he did that, I really got to see what kind of person he is. He answered them after practice and I’m sure he was exhausted.”
In some ways, Jackson may be filling a void for students at the university and fans of the team. Quarterback Armanti Edwards was wildly popular, if a bit behind Jackson in terms of social media accessibility, and his graduation left a dent. And while football hasn’t exactly struggled in recent years, there hasn’t been a repeat championship, either.
“I don’t think it’s any secret that our students and our alumni have been longing for a positive leader to emerge from the football team going into this year,” Setzer said. “That’s not to say we haven’t had this over the past couple of years — it just seems that our fan base seemed disconnected last year, in particular, among the alumni constituents.”
For Young, Jackson’s tendency to push himself on the field and off provides that positive leadership.
“It has a huge impact,” she said. “When people — students, fans, alumni — see someone with such dedication and passion for something, it makes them want to support that person.”
For his part, Jackson’s just trying to bring the inspiration past the locker room doors.
“I always try to keep the fellas up,” he said. There’s a time to be serious, but there’s also a time to joke. They gave me the name Papa J.J. on the team, because I try to get us focused and right mentally, but I feel like I can be a positive reinforcement morally.”