FAYETTEVILLE - Bijhon Jackson has weighed 330 and considerably more before.
But during his time at the University of Arkansas, the 6-1 senior defensive nose tackle from El Dorado said he’s never carried 330 like he carries it now.
Jackson shed weight since his backup tackle role in last year’s 4-3 defense.
However he still stayed large but firmer as the powerful nose tackle required in the new 3-4 defense that Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads implement.
“Mainly just my diet,” Jackson said of the difference over past August preseasons. “I wanted to do a little extra to burn off a little fat and keep my weight up at the same time. I’m at 330 and want to stay between 320 and 330.”
Jackson even stayed away all summer from El Dorado and its home cooking.
Instead he mostly ate what strength coach Ben Herbert prescribed.
“I eat a lot of vegetables,” Jackson said. “I paid more attention at the times I ate certain things. I wasn’t eating sugar and fried stuff late at night. I was eating it earlier in the day before the workouts. That mainly helped me trim down a little bit.”
He did need a little sugar energy before the summer workouts.
“Coach Herb really turned it up on us with a lot of conditioning and a lot of things to make us lock into the end of the workouts. I think it’s really paying off for us right now,” Jackson said. This is the best I’ve ever felt for the first few days of practice.”
And he sees results during the preseason practices.
“I’ve been flying around,” Jackson said. “My condition is getting better every day. I feel good about where I am. Just overall healthier.”
Frank Ragnow, the senior All-American candidate Preseason first-team All-SEC center working against Jackson daily in the best vs best portions of preseason practice, notices the difference.
“He's just doing so much more,” Ragnow said. “He's just bought in so much. He does so much with Herb flexibility-wise. He's just bought into his diet and everything like that. It's been impressive how it's shown up on the field so far that's for sure.”
Going against the best in Ragnow naturally betters himself, Jackson said.
“It’s intense,” Jackson said. “Me and Frank go at it every day. I think Frank is one of the reasons that I have made so much progress that I have made. I know I’m going up against probably THE best center in college football every day and that’s one of the reasons I am making such huge steps every day.”
Huge enough that Bielema calls him and defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim of Hope absolutely starters on the D-line.
“I think Bijhon and Sosa - they’re our guys,” Bielema said. “Bijhon has made some plays.”
This 3-4 scheme will help him make plays, Jackson said, and especially help him help the four linebackers behind him to make plays if he neutralizes the opposing center.
“The main thing for us is just keeping the center from climbing up on the linebackers and stretch the zone plays,” Jackson said. “We just try and dominate the center.”
If Jackson can really dominate, the center will require help.
“ A lot of guys in the 3-4 get double-teamed across the board” Jackson said. “It helps those guys in the back making plays.”
Jackson said he “had fun” the first spring day he practiced his new position in the new defense and that “it’s even more fun now.”
“I feel like I’m taking a couple of huge steps every day and I feel really good about playing nose guard,” Jackson said.
It was far from fun how the Razorbacks ended their 2016 season in second-half meltdowns blowing 24-7 and 24-0 halftime leads to lose their SEC finale, 28-24 at Missouri and 35-24 to Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl at Charlotte, N.C.
“I feel that’s kind of a reason we have the mentality on the team we have right now,” Jackson said of a team wide improved work ethic. “It’s just a different mentality going forward. A level of accountability that hasn’t been here before.”
For Jackson, that means accounting for today and not fretting about tomorrow.
“Man, I’m just going out and having fun every day and just taking it one day at a time,” Jackson said. “I’m not stressing about rushing to get into the season. I’m just going out and giving it my all every day in practice.”