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Sports

October 25, 2006

Action Jackson:Pats rookie receiver slowly breaking through

FOXBORO - In his frenetic Alabama drawl, Coach Rush Propst recalled one of the most amazing plays he'd ever seen.

His Hoover (Ala.) High Buccaneers were visiting rival Tuscaloosa County four years ago. His best receiver, Chad Jackson, had just broken into a full sprint to make a one-handed touchdown catch. With only six feet separating the back of the end zone and the crowd, there was no way he could slow himself down enough to avoid hitting a wall. Or so Propst thought.

Instead, Jackson used his free hand to open a gate leading into the stands, which he slipped through. His cleated feet then skidded up three or four steps like tires on a runway.

"Chad Jackson," Propst said last week, "is a big-time playmaker."

Propst's Bucs, now famous after being featured on MTV's reality show "Two-A-Days," weren't yet a national sensation. Jackson, on the other hand, was on the way to becoming one. After starring at Hoover High, he moved on to the University of Florida, where he put up big numbers as a junior in 2005.

But one question remains: Can the Patriots rookie be a difference maker this season?

Those who know the second-round pick say yes. Jackson had his best game as a pro Sunday, catching 35-yard touchdown pass in a 28-6 win over the Bills. Through five games, he has five catches for 86 yards and a pair of TDs.

If there were any early-season frustrations still eating at him, he's since swallowed them.

"Chad is a reserved guy," Propst said. "There are a lot of crazy, goofy (receivers). He would never seek attention or detract from the team."

One thing's for sure: Don't expect Jackson to follow in the footsteps of his high school coach, whose fire and brimstone laced speeches have made for interesting TV.

"I don't want to beat them. I want to embarrass them," Propst said of an opponent during an episode of "Two-A-Days."

Jackson, like any player around here - especially a rookie - is strongly discouraged from producing verbal ammo for opponents.

Last Wednesday, for example, he walked to his locker and politely declined comment.

"Can't talk," he said with a small smile before heading for the nearby training room.

Propst said he's happy to be a sounding board for Jackson. They speak on a regular basis.

"We don't always talk about football," said Propst, who's now a Patriots fan after rooting for the Red Sox and Celtics while growing up in Alabama. "I just listen."

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