UA linebacker has World Cup connection

2014-06-26T00:00:00Z 2014-06-26T09:32:09Z UA linebacker has World Cup connectionBy Daniel Berk Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Like most American soccer fans, Sir Thomas Jackson is starting to get pretty consumed with the World Cup.

While the UA’s junior linebacker won’t be attending his summer classes today with a flag draped around his shoulders, he’ll certainly be watching when the United States plays Germany.

There’s a reason.

Jackson, a 2011 graduate of O’Dea High School in Seattle, was classmates and teammates with current U.S. defender DeAndre Yedlin.

The two played freshman football together in 2007 and attended several of the same classes over the next three years, forming a friendship.

“It’s crazy that he’s gone from that to playing in the World Cup,” Jackson said this week. “He was always an outgoing guy who was fun to be around. Soccer became bigger and bigger for him throughout high school and it’s not surprising to see him playing at the highest level now.”

He’s not just playing. He’s making a difference.

Sunday, Jackson stood inches from his television, shouting words of encouragement to the Americans as they played Portugal. He had a group text message going with several of his friends from O’Dea and midway through the second half, a few began to wonder if Yedlin, a reserve, would get in.

With less than 20 minutes on the clock, United States coach Jurgen Klinsmann inserted Yedlin into the game, delighting everyone on Jackson’s text-message chain.

The chatter started to pick up.

Then, in the 82nd minute, Yedlin got a pass from a teammate, used his speed to dash down the right side of the pitch and delivered a strong pass to Michael Bradley in the middle. Bradley passed it to Graham Zusi, who eventually delivered it to Clint Dempsey for a goal.

It gave the Americans a 2-1 lead over Portugal and sent Jackson into a tizzy.

“I just started screaming,” Jackson said. “I was so happy for him. He’s playing for our hometown, our high school; it’s just crazy.”

It’s even crazier because most people didn’t expect Klinsmann to select Yedlin for the final roster.

“We have DeAndre in our group for a reason,” Klinsmann told reporters after the game. “He has the qualities to make an impact in the game right now in this World Cup, which he did. We knew it. That’s why he’s here.”

Jackson said he remembers meeting Yedlin for the first time during the first day of freshman football practice. Jackson, a defensive tackle at the time, would try to stop Yedlin, a speedy running back who loved to get to the edge.

“He has always been using that speed to his advantage,” Jackson said. “He used to just get to the outside and go. He scored a bunch of touchdowns and was really good.”

But he was better at soccer.

So after his freshman season, Yedlin stopped playing football and focused exclusively on soccer. By the time he was a senior at O’Dea, he was showing Jackson Internet rankings that had him ranked as one of the top 15 prep soccer players in the country.

“I knew he was good, but I didn’t know it was anything like that until he showed me those rankings,” Jackson said.

Yedlin accepted a scholarship to national power Akron and signed with his hometown Seattle Sounders after his sophomore season.

In his first year with the Sounders, Yedlin was selected as an MLS all-star and was a finalist for rookie of the year. He has started 41 games for the Sounders over the past two seasons and has become a full-on Seattle celebrity, known for his wild and ever-changing hairstyle.

“His face is everywhere now,” Jackson said. “I saw him modeling for something and I was just like, ‘Wow, DeAndre is that big.’”

The two haven’t seen each other since graduation night at O’Dea but have kept tabs on each other through mutual friends.

“It’s hard to stay in touch with everyone, especially someone like him who is so busy,” Jackson said. “But I’m definitely rooting for him and am really happy for him.”

Contact reporter Daniel Berk at dberk@azstarnet.com or 573-4330. On Twitter @DSBerk.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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