Sports

SPOTLIGHT PLAYER — Jackson Willard: La Habra’s clutch foot

By Nathan Percy
La Habra Journal

Over the course of the last couple months, the La Habra football team hasn’t had much to worry about I when it comes to putting points on the board.

Starting in Week 4 against Gahr, the Highlanders have had little reason to use the field goal unit, crushing all League opponents by double digits en route to the playoffs.

However, that changed last Friday when La Habra was deadlocked with Los Alamitos in the first round of the CIF-SS Southwest Division playoffs.

Facing 4th-and-five at the Los Alamitos eight-yard line with 3:18 left in the fourth quarter, Head Coach Frank Mazzotta, with help from his assistant coaches, called upon Jackson Willard, the Highlanders junior place kicker, to attempt to put La Habra ahead.

“There was a lot going through my head, a lot of pressure and weight on my shoulders,” Jackson said. “But I had the confidence that I could get the job done.”

The distance was 25 yards with an added angle as the ball rested on the right hash mark.

Willard knew this kick could mean continuing on in the playoffs, or ending the season right then and there. He squared up in the backfield, and the special teams unit gave him a good snap and hold. The stadium crowd held its collective breath. The junior split the uprights for the eventual game-winning field goal to send La Habra to the quarterfinals.

“So much was going through my head, so much excitement,” Jackson said. “I’m just happy I got the seniors one more week, that was the ultimate goal.”

It was only his second field goal attempt of the season. The first one came against Buena Park during league play in late October, but it missed the mark from 32 yards out.

Jackson has also been responsible for La Habra’s extra points and kickoffs during the course of the season.

“He’s improved a tremendous amount,” said Frank Mazzotta, La Habra head coach. “He does work hard and when everything comes together the way it did last week, he knows how to thrive. Bottom line is he got the job done when we needed him to.”

There was no situation bigger than last Friday night for Jackson and though the Highlanders were so close to the end zone, everyone, including Jackson, believed that trying the field goal was the right call.

“We’ve been practicing field goals on Wednesdays every week, so I knew I could do it, the coaches knew I could do it,” Jackson said. “We just never really had the opportunity to get a field goal in, but last week, when it counted, it was a great feeling and a great call.”

Jackson’s role on the team increased dramatically this season as he came up from junior varsity to become the team’s kicker after Sean Wale graduated and is playing at Boise State University. .

While Jackson says all he’s learned about the position has come from Wale, he wants to try and leave his own legacy.

“I’ve just wanted to prove that I’m not Sean Wale, I’m Jackson Willard,” he said. “I want to live up to the expectation, but I want to be better. I learned everything from Sean, but I want to be me at the same time.”

In the classroom, Jackson has recently discovered a love for mathematics as well as history.

And when he’s not focused on football or academics, Jackson also enjoys playing baseball and hanging out with his friends.

But when it comes to inspiration and role models, Jackson believed that his father and grandfather have impacted his life the most.

“They’ve been there for me all my life,” Jackson said. “They’ve given me a lot of confidence in myself in becoming who I am.”

That confidence could be a major factor for La Habra when it comes to a run for the CIF Finals, as Willard could very well be called again if the Highlanders find themselves in a tight game against Foothill this Friday night.

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Started in 1995, the La Habra Journal is an independent community news source serving the cities of La Habra and La Habra Heights.