High School Sports

Senior scores goals, serves many roles for Mustangs

LAKEWOOD RANCH - Ben Jackson leads the Lakewood Ranch High soccer team in two categories: goals (13) and sweat drops.

Perhaps those two go hand in hand, but Jackson said it's not that complex.

"I sweat when I play video games," said Jackson, a three-year varsity starter and one of the leading scorers in school history. "I don't know why. I was born that way, I guess."

Maybe he's not the guy you want to hug after a goal or a victory, but there's a good chance he scored a goal and better chance he helped the Mustangs earn the victory in one way or another.

Jackson is not only one of the Mustangs' most dangerous offensive weapons, he is also their most versatile player.

"I think I've played everywhere except goalie," Jackson said.

With key players such as Bo Benac and Zach Jones missing time with injuries and illness, Jackson's work ethic and ability to morph into different roles have kept Lakewood Ranch (10-4-4) competitive.

Though Lakewood Ranch coach Matt Kane has passed around the captain's label to several players throughout the year, Jackson has held it more than most. The third-year Mustangs coach said all that sweat isn't a genetic twist.

"He's worked very hard this year," Kane said.

Jackson, Benac and Russ Lanier were the only returning varsity players from last year's squad, so his hustle helped set the pace for a young squad.

"Since the beginning of the year, he came out for all the preseason workouts," Kane said. "He wanted to lead by example. He just has that work ethic."

Kane acknowledges Jackson probably would prefer to stay at one position, but the coach is confident what kind of effort he'll get out of the veteran Mustang no matter where he goes.

Jones, whose torn hamstring forced Jackson to play more forward earlier this year, said Jackson "saves the team" by being flexible about where he can play. Jackson's also one of the few vocal leaders on the Mustangs.

"He's the only one who can really talk to Coach Kane the way he does," Jones said. "He can say anything to Coach Kane. That's just his personality. He's like that with everyone. He doesn't hold back."

Jackson said his leadership comes more from experience. He was on the team that won a district title two years ago.

He can show the younger players how to succeed when the odds are against them and how to keep their head up in tough situations.

"I'm the wily ol' veteran," said Jackson, who had eight goals last year and 11 as a sophomore. "I'm a senior, and I've done it before. I'm the old man. There are a lot more people who have a lot more skill than me, but I somehow find a way to score."

With age comes wisdom. A younger player might complain about moving from position to position week after week.

"I have my favorite spots, but I'd rather be on the field than on the bench," said Jackson, a midfielder by preference. "I'll go wherever."

Jackson said last year's team underachieved because the chemistry was a bit off, but with the addition of freshman Alex Martin and transfer Nick Martinez, the team has been energized.

As the regular season nears its end, he likes the way the Mustangs have been playing of late and has high hopes for the district tournament later this month.

"The way we're working together, I think we can definitely go and win a district championship and go farther in the playoffs than we ever have," Jackson said.

"I remember when we won the district championship and I felt like I was part of it. I remember the seniors were so happy that they won it in their last year. You always want to go out on top."