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A testament to hard work: Cherokee Bluff's Marlion Jackson enjoying late Division-I football scholarship offers coming in after graduation
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Cherokee Bluff receiver Marlion Jackson runs after a catch Friday, Nov. 12, 2021, for a long touchdown during the first half of the Bears 3A state playoff game with Greater Atlanta Christian at Yonah Field. - photo by Scott Rogers

Marlion Jackson is struck by how surreal everything has become in recent days.

He always dreamed about playing Division-I football.

Now, just weeks after graduating from Cherokee Bluff High, it’s clear that ambition is about to become a reality.

Since receiving his high school diploma after spending one year at Cherokee Bluff, the wide receiver with a big frame has picked up scholarship offers from Kennesaw State, Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State.

“I’ve worked my whole life for this,” said Jackson, a 6-foot, 4-inch tall wide receiver, who will be visiting Troy Uniersity on Wednesday. “I’m just really, really happy that I put in the hard work and it’s paying off.”

With as many obstacles and hardships as Jackson has had to endure in the first 18 years of his life, delayed gratification is really not that big of a deal in the big picture.

Jackson’s story is one of persistence and overcoming significant adversity.                                                            

And the real MVP of the story is his single mother, Angela, who has held their family together through trials and tribulations.

Now, Jackson wants his mother and his two younger brothers Braylon, 14, and Christian, 12, to all be able to share in his joyous moment when he signs a Division-I football scholarship, which he said will likely come by the end of the week.

His football ability speaks for itself.

As a senior in 2022, Jackson tallied 636 receiving yards in a run-heavy offense for the Bears. His biggest performance was a 135-yard night, which included a 92-yard touchdown, in the first-round playoff win against Greater Atlanta Christian.

However, Angela wants the world to see Marlion for the well-adjusted young man he’s become. Jackson has a warm personality and is a reflection of growing up with a tight-knit, close family that has each other’s backs – through thick and thin.

“To see his joy is the best feeling in the world,” Marlion’s mother said. “I feel like we can exhale, but the work is not done, we didn’t work just to get here. The work is now just beginning.”

Jackson attended Mill Creek High his first three years, but only saw the field on varsity in limited action  as a junior in 2021.

However, that didn’t diminish his passion for football.

He just needed to go to a program where the coaching staff also saw his potential.

And his family also had to relocate to live in the school’s district.

Also, Jackson would have to get his academic standing in order. By the time the coronavirus pandemic hit, in 2020, his commitment to school had fallen off drastically and his grades suffered. A part of that was not being in the building with classmates when children were forced to attend class online.

In addition, Jackson was dealing with family issues, which included his father leaving the home when he was an early teen.

“I was really at a low spot there for a while,” Jackson said. “I almost gave up on school. I was saying, ‘what’s the point?’”

Jackson might have given up on himself there for a while, an understandable reaction to dealing with real-life hardships.

However, his mother made sure her family remained intact. They came up with a game plan for Jackson to get one final shot in high school football.

And when other programs said no, they found just the right opportunity at nearby Cherokee Bluff.

The family had many long talks about what was the best decision.

Marlion’s mother, right away, felt a connection with the staff at Cherokee Bluff. So, she set about making the necessary move, which turned out to be 4.9 miles to find the family a residence in the school’s district in Flowery Branch.

And every success Jackson has, he’s earned the hard way.

He had to take four extra courses his final semester, which he completed with all A’s, along with doing well on the SAT.

Now, after a rocky start to high school, Jackson is fully academically qualified to get into whichever school he chooses to play at for the next four years.

“Cherokee Bluff’s teachers and staff instrumental in making sure, his final semester, that Marlion was set up for success,” his mother said. “All the chips fell into place.”

Although close to where he grew up in Gwinnett County, Jackson didn’t know much about Cherokee Bluff when his family was exploring making a move for him to have better opportunities.

However, his trainer and trusted mentor Drew Johnson already worked with the Bears program.

That got the wheels in motion to see if Cherokee Bluff would be a possibility.

After extensive family conversations, going over the pros and cons of making the move, they decided it was the best decision for the entire family.

And once Marlion hit the practice field last summer with Cherokee Bluff, he said it was a natural fit.

Quickly, he made new friends and bonded with an entirely new football program.

Now, Jackson has left a legacy as a feel-good story about how hard work and dedication can help overcome any previous roadblocks.

“I had so much to prove to myself and my family when we moved to Cherokee Bluff,” Jackson said. “I wanted my mother to see we didn’t do it all for nothing.”

 

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