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July 2, 2012Tyler Jackson decided to gamble.
The Lexiington (Catholic), Ky., catcher had been committed to Western Kentucky for a while, but the lure of the Southeastern Conference stayed on his mind even after deciding on the home-state Hilltoppers.
Jackson had attended a winter camp at Ole Miss during his junior year, and that quick trip made an impression. So when the MLB First-Year Play Draft scooped up Rebel signee Stryker Trahan in the first round, Jackson had to decide whether or not to play it safe.
"It was the hardest decision of my life," Jackson said. "I knew the risk I was taking, but I felt like I could play at that level if I could just get the opportunity."
Jackson withdrew his commitment from Western Kentucky and contacted Ole Miss and Tennessee. He emailed Ole Miss recruiting coordinator Carl Lafferty, and the coach's reply was a positive one. Lafferty remembered Jackson.
A visit quickly followed, and head coach Mike Bianco offered a roster spot after a lengthy meeting. Jackson went through orientation last week and will report with the team in August.
"They said they wanted me in Oxford, and there was relief like I can't explain," Jackson said. "It's just a dream right now to play for this team in this conference. The fans are unbelievable. That's you know always know about Ole Miss, how baseball is such a main thing and an important thing."
Prior to committing to Western Kentucky, Jackson received interest from Louisvile, Coastal Carolina and Duke.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pounder is rated No. 466 nationally by Perfect Game. The publication lists Jackson as the No. 51 catcher nationally and the No. 6 prospect in Kentucky. He's a three-time all-state selection, with a first team nod in 2012.
Jackson said his personal best pop time is 1.91 seconds, and he hopes to gain at least 10 pounds before his freshman season. He'll join fellow freshman Holt Perdzock, sophomore Austin Knight and juniors Stuart Turner and Will Allen as catchers on the roster.
"I think I'm above average behind the plate," Jackson said. "I can manage games, and I'm a left-handed hitter, so that's good. Being critical, my arm is maybe a shortcoming. It's not bad, but a lot of those guys have rockets."
Jackson just wanted a chance, and he's got that with the Rebels. Ole Miss had been on his mind for more than a year, and it all came together within a month.
"There was definitely some apprehension with what to do, but I followed my heart and went for it," Jackson said. "With other schools distance and things were factors, but it wasn't with Ole Miss. It's just the place I wanted to be."
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