COVINGTON, Ga. — On a day when several of his teammates were getting ready to sign the next four years of their football-playing lives away, Jaylon Lackey was content to not be in that number.
The 6-foot, 190-pound linebacker had just turned in a more-than-solid senior season where he accumulated north of 100 total tackles, including 12 for losses, three sacks and an interception.
He was one of the most athletic defenders in an active Eastside Eagles front seven. And he’d picked up some interest from several smaller schools. He had opportunities to play football at the next level, and then, who knows?
Actually, Lackey knew something about himself that many others had no clue about until recently. The Eastside senior has always wanted to serve his country. And when it came down to it, Lackey to commit to the Navy. Not as an athlete, but as an active duty defender of the United States.
“I’ve been thinking on it a lot, but really hard since December,” Lackey said. “But I never told anyone. I’ve always thought about it. I used to dream of going to the Air Force because I’ve always had a desire to serve my country. So I decided to go to basic training, get in the Navy and then come back to college later.”
Despite his lifelong dream, Lackey called the decision, “really tough,” because he also had a dream to play football on the collegiate level. But military service one, and not because of some dramatic family story including multiple generations of military men and women. Lackey said he has a cousin who serves and an uncle who is a veteran.
But really, the choice became easy because it ultimately was just an outgrowth of some of Lackey’s foundational character traits.
“I’ve always thought about people first,” he said. “Other people, and not just myself. I’ve never been a ‘me’ person. I think about everything and everyone else before I think about my own stuff. So because of that, it really became an easy choice.”
Lackey said he hopes to get stationed “some place warm” for basic training. But he’s content to go wherever he is sent. He doesn’t get nervous about prospects of war or political unrest between the U.S. and other nations. He knows that participating in active combat could one day be a reality for him, but he also knows it comes with the territory of his desire to serve.
“I’m excited about this, really,” he said. “I don’t worry about anything. I know God’s got me. He’s gonna be there for me. He’s going to lead me to that are best for me. I know he’s got a plan for my life.”
As for his two teammates, LaMarius Benson (Central Florida) and Spurgeon Gaither (Charleston Southern), and all other Newton County area athletes signing letters of intent on signing day, Lackey said he’ll be front and center in support of them.
“I’m very proud of these guys and of all of us,” Lackey said. “Eastside, Alcovy, Newton. I’m gonna try to be at every signing today. We all came up together. They’re all there for me and I’m going to be there for them. We’re all just like family, and I’m just proud that everyone is pursuing their dreams, whatever they are.”