Jackson Acker watched as classes went virtual and the spring sports season and his pursuit of a state title in the discus were wiped out by concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I really had big expectations for track,” said Acker, who finished second in the discus at the 2019 WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet. “The whole COVID thing, I can’t argue against (the WIAA canceling the spring sports season). I’d much rather have everyone be safe than have one season of track. Still, I hope we have next season. I’m hoping to have a big senior year and hope to make a statement my senior year.”
But Acker — a Verona senior-to-be and University of Wisconsin football recruit — enters the 2020-21 school year facing uncertainty about what the academic and athletic year will look like.
“We really don’t know what will happen,” Acker said Saturday after working his shift at Pleasant View Golf Course in Middleton. “We have to be ready for whatever they give us.”
The Madison and Sun Prairie school districts already announced (as of Monday afternoon) they will begin the school year virtually. It is expected that more school districts around the area and state, plus conferences and the WIAA will deliver clarity on athletics these next two weeks. For instance, the Big Eight Conference athletic directors have a virtual meeting scheduled for Tuesday afternoon.
While awaiting those decisions, Verona football coach Dave Richardson continues to prepare for a season, including running virtual strength and agility workouts. He wants to move ahead slowly and safely, but realizes student-athletes “are just champing at the bit” to get started.
The 6-foot-2, 205-pound Acker remains hopeful there will be a football season of some sort this fall, particularly with Verona moving into a new high school and facilities. He’s excited about eventually getting into the new weight room and fitness center — and playing games on the turf field.
“I’m going to enjoy that,” he said.
Said Richardson: “I think the kids are looking forward to that (field), especially Jackson.”
Richardson said Acker and running back Graham Stier, also a senior-to-be, could form a dynamic backfield.
“They are lightning and lightning back there,” Richardson said, then adding with a laugh, “Jackson has got a little more thunder in his butt, too.”
Acker showed his speed and power last season during Verona’s 61-35 Week 2 victory on the turf at Middleton — rushing 14 times for 243 yards and three touchdowns. Verona totaled seven rushing touchdowns and was credited with 576 yards rushing and 705 total yards in a game Acker called his favorite in his prep football career thus far.
But a right foot and ankle injury plagued him after that, forcing him to miss a couple late-season games. He said he initially thought his foot was sore due to wearing his cleats, and he felt some pain after Verona’s 27-21 loss Sept. 20 at Sun Prairie.
He continued to play in games, but said he later learned after undergoing an MRI that he had a fractured fourth metatarsal in his foot plus the sprained ankle. He left Verona’s 51-28 first-round playoff loss to Sun Prairie in the third quarter after aggravating the injury.
Acker said the foot healed after resting it after the season.
He finished with 929 yards rushing on 113 carries and ran for 11 touchdowns. He was a first-team all-conference selection as a running back in the Big Eight and a first-team choice on the Wisconsin State Journal’s 2019 All-Area football team. He was a Wisconsin Football Coaches Association Large School honorable mention All-State pick.
Acker orally committed to UW in June 2019. He said he was recruited as an athlete, though primarily as a running back.
UW was a favored university for Acker because he said he’s interested in following a path taken by his mother, Darcy Acker, who went to UW and works as a nurse in ambulatory procedures at UW Hospital. He said he’s done a job shadow with his mother and is interested in studying the work she does.
“He’s a quality kid, a great student,” Richardson said. “He could have been recruited anywhere, but his dream was to go to Wisconsin, where his mom works. When (the Badgers) offered, it was a no-brainer for them. He could gain 20 pounds and play outside linebacker or he could stay as he is and play running back. Any way you could look at it, he could help a team, and, hopefully, he helps our team this season. He’s big, fast, smart. He’s got everything.”
Richardson — who’s retired from teaching but will continue as football coach, serve as fitness facility coordinator and lead character and leadership classes — eyes Acker as a running back on offense and rush end on a defense that also will feature seniors-to-be James Rae and Tyler LaHam.
Richardson wants the Wildcats’ Wing-T offense to be more run-oriented this season, and believes junior quarterback Mason Fink will provide a good running threat. Acker said he’s all for the possibility of more option plays.
Acker said prior to the coronavirus outbreak, he pondered graduating from high school after the fall semester this school year and enrolling early at UW. But that has changed.
“I’m pretty sure I will stay the whole year,” said Acker, who prefers in-person classroom learning to online learning. “I missed half of my junior year. I don’t want to miss half my senior year.”
There’s also the matter of track season.
Acker, who finished second in the discus and ninth in the shot put at the 2019 WIAA Division 1 state track and field meet, wants to establish new personal bests during the track and field season and win a state championship — after not having the opportunity last season.
MMSD announcement expected next week
The Madison school district announcement regarding athletics is expected July 29, said Madison Memorial athletic director Jeremy Schlitz, who’s also the district athletic director.
Potential WIAA action will impact season dates, which explains why the Madison school district is waiting until then to make an official announcement, Schlitz said.
Schlitz wrote in an email that the district — which includes Madison East, Madison La Follette, Madison Memorial and Madison West — hasn’t made a determination yet, though sports will reflect schooling decisions.
The WIAA Board of Control is working on scheduling a business meeting later this week, WIAA communications director Todd Clark said in an email Monday.
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