COVINGTON, Ga. — It’s not that Jackson Gann was being wholly nostalgic.
After all, as he began recounting all that his high school soccer career entailed, he hadn’t yet played with his team yet in his first round playoff game against Thomson while trying to sort through the events of the last four years.
But Gann, Eastside’s stalwart, four-year starting keeper, sure spoke like he could see the conclusion of his high school career creeping up closer to him.
“It’s been a lot of fun this senior year,” Gann said. “It’s not necessarily nostalgic, but I have been looking back on everything lately, and I’m realizing it’s coming to an end, and me and the other seniors, we want to make this season last as long as it can.”
Gann’s team qualified for the Class AAAA state tournament a while ago, and essentially clinched a home field advantage for its first-round opponent Friday night. At the time, he had no clue how far he or his team would go, but he was sure about how far he, himself had come.
“When I came to Eastside in the eighth grade, I was small and quiet and didn’t have much of a presence,” Gann said. “Soon as I got into the ninth grade, I realized I had to step up and start for the team and try to be a leader.”
Let Eastside coach Champ Young tell it, Gann’s presence has been the ultimate constant.
“It feels like he’s been here forever,” Young said during a game late in Gann’s junior season. “He’s meant so much to this program.”
Of course Young specifically means the Eastside boys soccer program. But if you spend any time with Gann, you’ll quickly find out his influence at Eastside goes far beyond the soccer field.
Take, for instance, the fatal February shooting at Parkman High School in Florida that left 17 dead and touched off national protests and unrest about gun control and curbing school shootings. Gann eventually helped lead one of the several student-led demonstrations against school gun violence across the county’s schools back in March.
Gann was one of just a handful of student-athletes who joined in with others during Eastside High’s planned walk-out. He said he heard all of the things people were saying — some supportive, some not so much.
But like most things in his life, Gann said he wasn’t participating for pats on the back, publicity or any accolades. He was just following what was in his heart.
“Gun violence incidents didn’t really come into my life or effect me that strongly until the Parkman shooting,” he said. “I watched half our school check out and get anxious about the whole thing, and I won’t comfortable with that. I don’t think anybody should have to feel that way. So I decided that I wanted to be in the number of those who stepped up to make some things happen.”
Gann said he along with girls soccer player Sara Hammond and several others started to raise awareness of what they wanted to see their local school community do in response to these atrocities. Gann helped others take the lead in this process.
Being that vocal and out front wasn’t always a natural trait for him. But when he thinks on where his confidence to lead came from, he pointed back to the goal he defends on the soccer field.
“I’ve become better and better at communicating and directing our team and making our defense better on the field,” he said. “I know that process helped built up my confidence to be a leader off the field as well.”
On the day of the walk-out demonstration, Gann estimates about “150 to 200 people” came out. As the leadership team was considering what the message would be, apparently the lot fell on Gan to speak.
“It turned out that I, maybe, was one of the most confident ones in my public speaking,” he said. “I feel that directly translated from the soccer field.”
Believe it or not, once that immediate spotlight faded, Gann had no problem transitioning back to soccer and maintaining his regular routine. Unlike some of his other peers across the nation who’ve parlayed their moments of activism into political aspirations, Gann said he’s never had such thoughts.
“I haven’t given any kind of a political career any thought,” Gann said. “I’m going to school for construction management. I’ll take classes at Gwinnett Tech and just keep my mind and options open. If something catches my attention other than what I like to do, I’ll think about it.”
Gann says he definitely has a passion for building things and serving. So much so that he’s not even concerned about chasing down opportunities to play college soccer. His passion for building has given him opportunities to serve on several church mission trips, including one to Honduras while he was in the eighth grade.
There, Gann helped build concrete floors, latrines and affix roofs and handicap ramps onto people’s houses.
“I like getting up and working with my hands,” he said. “I also like seeing and helping people. I’d love to work, maybe, in some capacity where I can help develop our nation’s physical infrastructure.”
As far as finishing his days at Eastside, a state championship in soccer would be nice. But even if that doesn’t come, Gann said he’s got plenty to hold on to and carry with him as he moves on in May.
“I’ll just remember the relationships I’ve built here,” he said. “Guys that are in my senior class, guys who graduated before me and even our younger guys. I’ll remember my relationship with Coach Young and I know I’ll always be able to talk to him and come to him about any problem I have in the future. No matter where I go, there will be a lot of memories in this place that you can’t forget. It’s made me a better man.”