NORMAN — It’s not like Jakcob Dean has achieved folk hero status. Still, I can’t remember where I was when I saw him for the first time.
Was it in Bixby, his sophomore season, at that mega-scrimmage Norman High attends every year? Did the Tigers even go to Bixby that season? Maybe it was the Top of the World Classic the same preseason.
A bit of a mystery.
What I remember is what I thought the first time I saw him play.
Something like, “Well, yeah, the Tigers have a receiver this season. Did you see that catch?” And then, “Wait, he plays quarterback, too?”
Something about it was particularly impressive. Probably that he was making plays at both positions while carrying himself in a way that boldly seemed to ask “Why wouldn’t I be making plays at both positions?”
It can sell you a car, offer deliverance and earn your vote.
You hope it’s in good hands.
NHS football coach Greg Nation remembers the first time he saw the young man who would become one of his best receivers, later become his quarterback and, Wednesday, National Signing Day, make his commitment official to play football alongside his brother Blake at Division II Arkansas Tech of the Great American Conference.
“I think the first thing I noticed about him was just his leadership and his work ethic,” Nation said. “Along with that comes a following. It’s kind of magnetic. Our kids, they migrate to him and just follow him where he goes.”
Nation remembers being impressed the first time he said hello to Dean, then an eighth grader at Alcott Middle School.
“He came up and shook my hand,” he said. “A lot of kids don’t do that.”
Also, Nation knows, in Dean’s hands, all that charisma is a very good thing.
“He’s a good student, he’s a good person and he made us a lot better football team,” he said. “He made athletics and sports important to him. He made academics important to him. He made his friends important to him.”
In high school, it’s like hitting for the cycle.
It was a big day, Wednesday, the day prep athletes sign their athletic gifts over to the college or university of their choice in exchange for a free or far less expensive education.
Of course, it’s always good to remember that not everybody who’ll be playing football (or running, swinging a club or racquet or throwing a round rather than oblong ball) on future autumn Saturdays will be doing it in front of the masses.
Some will do it for smaller schools in much smaller venues for seemingly much smaller stakes. Yet the best of them will attack it with the same intensity and conviction that made them so valuable at every previous step along their path.
Mark Dean down as one of those. All you had to do was watch him play (to say nothing of watching him in every other moment), because he doesn’t do anything halfway.
“My dad always told me, that no matter what you do, be it football or school, if you want to be the best,” he said, “you’ve got to work at it.”
Wednesday afternoon, maybe wearing green — Arkansas Tech’s colors — for the first time since arriving at NHS, Dean sounded all the right chords.
He said he would have enjoyed more success as a Tiger but wouldn’t change a thing. He said he’s hungry to go win a championship with the — honest, not making this up — Wonder Boys.
He said he knows nothing will he handed to him and he’ll have to “earn some stripes, prove myself.” And he plans to begin doing it right after Independence Day Weekend, by which time he intends to be on the Russellville, Ark., campus, maybe enrolled in a couple summer session classes.
The thing about Dean?
Yes, he’s everything his coach said he is. No, during his time with the Tigers, NHS, though it enjoyed success, did not enjoy quite as much of it as crosstown rival Norman North.
Yes, if you watched him play, you didn’t easily forget him. No, if you were around him enough off the field, or just on the sidelines, between series, it wasn’t what he did between the lines that stuck with you the most.
It was the way he spoke to you, calling you by your first name like it was the most natural thing in the world (though, come to think of it, he might have said “Mr. Horning” the first couple of times, until I told him to cut it out).
The way he would speak to teammates, completely unpretentious and non-contrived, proving to witnesses that emotional leaders really are born more than they’re made.
The way, though he played a hard sport, he played it with purpose and joy rather than brooding angst, a state of being not so uncommon among contemporaries, because high school may be the best four years of your life, but it’s no picnic.
As for Dean, himself, he must know that he’s turned out well enough. Otherwise, he’d never be so aware of his support group.
“I have coach Nation, I have teachers, counselors, friends, friends’ parents, the booster club, that I can call any time of the day,” he said, “and they’d be willing to stick their neck out for me.”
Not that somebody like that ever has to make too many calls like that.
What did you think the first time you saw, met or spoke to Jakcob Dean?
Perhaps you never have. Perhaps you’ve only read about him.
Give it a shot.
You’re probably on the right track.
Follow me @clayhorning
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