(July 3, 2017)… For 23-year-old Kyle Jackson, the 2017 season was more than he could have ever imagined. It began on draft night when the Rochester Knighthawks surprised the lacrosse experts and selected the University of Michigan product with the seventh overall pick.
It was a surprise to everyone but the Knighthawks’ lacrosse brass. They knew that the shifty forward had all the tools to step right into the National Lacrosse League. He rewarded Rochester by finishing second on the team with 60 points. Jackson was one of the leaders on the Knighthawks’ offense, which included a mix of veterans and rookies.
His efforts did not go unnoticed, as he was voted the team’s Offensive MVP and Rookie of the Year. Then, on June 25, the Sarnia, Ontario native was named one of the three best rookies in the NLL.
With his inaugural season now behind him, Jackson reflected on his first season of pro ball and looked ahead to his sophomore campaign.
Thinking back to the draft, how exciting was that experience?
The draft experience was something that I will never forget for as long as I live. I vividly recall watching the NLL Draft a few years back in my junior year of college and thinking to myself, “One day I will be on that stage.” Completely unsure of how I was going to get there, it has always been a goal of mine since I was 3 years old to not only play in the NLL, but be one of the best to ever play. Projected to be picked up late in the draft, I had to really check in when I heard my name called seventh overall, as I didn’t think they actually said my name.
Not many people had you going seventh overall. Did that motivate you more heading into the season?
I think that when you refer to “not many people,” I am pretty sure you mean absolutely nobody at all had me going seventh overall. I firmly believe that you don’t make a team at any level based on where you go in a draft. Rather, you make the team based on your work ethic, skill level and desire to want to be the best. I would have been pleased with being picked last in the 2016 Draft because I knew that the team who took a chance on me was going to be the team who saw my potential.
Was training camp everything you expected?
Training camp was an eye-opening experience. It was truly everything that I expected and more. There were standards set before and there were expectations of where I would be needed on the left side. Having gone through it once already, the nerves and anxiousness of being a rookie amongst some of my role models growing up will be a little less obvious next time.
Describe your emotions during your pro debut?
I had the privilege of putting up zero goals and zero assists in my first ever pro game! That’s a very hard feat being one of seven offensive guys who plays almost every shift in a game. So, I would have to say my pro debut was everything that I didn’t want, but at the same time, the best case scenario. Not many guys in this league get the chance at another first. It allowed me to have a “second” debut against New England.
How did it feel to score your first pro goal?
Aside from watching it on film, I do not remember my first pro goal. I don’t know where it went in or how I scored it. At the end of the game, I remember earning my first win as a Knighthawk, though, and that feeling was priceless. You set a team rookie record with nine assists and tied a rookie mark with 11 points on Jan. 7.
Was that one of the best performances of your life?
I would 99 percent agree that it was one of the best performances of my life. It was only my second career pro game. If I recall correctly, it tied a rookie mark. My one percent left would’ve been to find a way of passing John Grant. Jr with 12 points. I guess that’s why they say there is always room for improvement.
On March 17, you scored a career-high five goals in a one-goal game at New England. How does it feel when you can’t miss?
Effortless. That’s the best way to describe the way that feels. Those are the moments when all the tireless hours of preparation come in. The game becomes just another shift where you truly appreciate how great this game has treated you. The tough moments, like putting up donuts in a lacrosse game in your pro debut, are the games that I remember. Those are the games that humble a player and reassure you that you’ve got a long way to go.
With one of the best rookie classes in team history, how much of an honor was it to win team Rookie of the Year honors?
Winning that award was truly an amazing accomplishment in my career. Not because I won the award, but because my teammates recognized me as that guy. Lacrosse is a team sport and any time you are recognized by your own teammates is not a moment to take for granted. I truly played with the greatest team in the NLL this past season. For those (veteran) guys to respond to so many rookies coming in, they are the ones to be thanked for all that they did for us.
What was the biggest adjustment you had to make as a rookie?
The speed of the game is ridiculous. Going from exhibition to the first real game of the season was like night and day.
What are you working on this summer to prepare for your sophomore season?
We missed the playoffs. To me, that’s enough motivation to never be satisfied.