Texas senior swimmer Tate Jackson is a five-time All-American and the school and Big 12 record-holder in the 100 freestyle. (UT Athletics)

Kirk Bohls

American-Statesman Staff

Column

Bohls: Texas’ Jackson pools talent, work ethic, humor for big success

Posted February 27th, 2019

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Story highlights
  • “There’s no sprinter in the country who works as hard as he does," Longhorn swim coach Eddie Reese said of Tate Jackson. "That’s why he’s getting better.
  • Tate Jackson has added about 20 pounds to his 6-4, 185-pound frame and looks so good that Reese took to calling him “the human hydrofoil because he’s built like one.” 
  • Jackson was born in Paris and would like to return to France after he competes in the World University Games in Naples, Italy, this summer.

Tate Jackson is funny. Really funny.

But Eddie Reese is funnier. Funnier, of course, than nearly every coach in any sport outside of Mike Leach. Funnier than any other swimming coach in the nation for sure. And yes, funnier than Tate Jackson.

Like the one Reese borrowed from swimmer Ryan Hardy and recounted the other day about the guy who told a buddy he was cooking Himalayan possum for dinner. There’s no such animal as Himalayan possum, the guy was told.

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Oh, you’re wrong, Reese said, there is because he caught him a-layin’ in the road.

Bada bing.

Eddie’s got a million of them.

As Jackson said, “I don’t think anybody is funnier than Eddie, at least in his eyes. I probably think I’m as funny as he is. But he’s got more stories. He’s got more content.”

Funny thing is, Jackson’s deadly serious once he climbs into the pool. He’s the Big 12’s reigning outstanding swimmer from last year’s conference swimming and diving championships, and this year’s began Wednesday at the Texas Swimming Center as the Longhorns try to win a 40th consecutive conference title. Texas has claimed all 22 Big 12 titles. That might carry an asterisk since TCU and West Virginia are the Longhorns’ only Big 12 competitors, but 14 NCAA titles — including the last four in a row — more than validate Reese’s program.

Texas senior Tate Jackson is one of the country’s top freestyle swimmers. [TEXAS ATHLETICS]
Much of that can be traced to the motivating, reaffirming styles of both Reese and diving coach Matt Scoggins. Big 12 diver of the year Murphy Bromberg owes plenty of her success to Scoggins, who “tells me ‘No Mr. Nice Guy’ when I’m on the board, which is funny since he’s the nicest guy ever.”

Jackson said Reese is equally positive and that “he cares as much about your calculus class as he does how fast you can go.”

Jackson’s made a huge progression as one of the top sprinters in college swimming. He owns the best time in the nation in the 100 freestyle with a clocking of 41.06, a school record. He’s also competing in the 50 free and the 800 free relay events.

“Tate is the fastest-improving 100 (freestyle) man in the country,” Reese said. “There’s no sprinter in the country who works as hard as he does. That’s why he’s getting better. You got to outwork ‘em if you want to beat anybody.”

And Jackson does.

In fact, strength coach Clint Martin has to all but chase him out of the weight room. Jackson absolutely loves lifting weights. Reese has one firm rule about no weights on the Monday of a swim meet. So naturally Jackson texted his coach Sunday night imploring him to allow him to lift the next day.

Texas head coach Eddie Reese celebrates with his swimmers in the pool after winning the team title at the NCAA men’s swimming and diving championships, Saturday, March 28, 2015, in Iowa City, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Reese texted back no. N-O.

“One of my favorite country songs is ‘What Part of No Do You Not Understand?’ “ Reese said.

But Jackson doesn’t really have that word in his vocabulary. His work ethic, especially in the weight room, stems largely from trying to keep up with his older brother Trent and setting an example for younger brother Trey, who will swim for the Longhorns next fall. Trent Jackson swam for Notre Dame from 2013 to 2017 and won a team award as the weight room warrior, and Tate admits he’s trying to live up to that same legacy.

Jackson can see the results, but said, “I’m not as strong as some. I’m not (five-time Olympic gold medalist) Nathan Adrian.” But he’s added about 20 pounds to his 6-4, 185-pound frame and looks so good that Reese took to calling him “the human hydrofoil because he’s built like one.” 

Seven years ago, Reese didn’t know him from Adam.

Jackson first met his future head coach when he was swimming for Nitro Swimming in a Grand Prix meet in Mesa, Ariz., as a sophomore at Vista Ridge where he swam after moving from Muscatine, Iowa. 

“He had no idea who I was,” Jackson said.

He does now.

Jackson has steadily improved and shaved so much time off his specialty events that he’s shed more than 2  1/2 seconds off his 100 freestyle time. Since his freshman year, he’s gone from 19.9 seconds to 19.2 in the 50 free and from 43.7 seconds to 41.06 in the 100 free.

“He has a gift,” Reese said. “He decided to trust me, and I trust him. He opened his gift, and he’s willing to take the risk.”

That includes paying attention to the slightest of details. That’s another reason he prefers the 100 free over the 50 free because “one slip on your dive (in the shorter race), the race is over. The 100 is more strategy. Technique is more important in the 100.”

He’s pumped up about competing as part of the USA Swimming national team in the World University Games in Italy this summer along with UT teammates Townley Haas, Austin Katz and Sam Stewart. That could also afford him the opportunity to perhaps return to Paris, where he was born. He lived there less than half a year before his father, an accountant for an electrical company, returned to the States after several years in France.

So is his French perfect?

“Nah,” he said, shrugging. “I can ask directions to the restroom. That’s about it.”

He has further ambitions of traveling to Tokyo for the 2020 Olympics.

“That’s the goal, right?” he said. “I think I’m on track. For me, that’s a hope and a dream. Starting with my sophomore year, I’ve been inching up. Now I’m on the national team, so that’s real good.”

The U.S. squad will take the top six performers in the 100 free, so he is unquestionably in the mix.

At this point, Jackson is already one of the four fastest male swimmers in the country, “and after our summer, he wants to be further up that line,” Reese said. “He’ll be hard to beat.”

Big 12 championship

Wednesday-Saturday, Texas Swim Center, tickets — $6 prelim sessions, $4 youth/students; $10 adults/$5 youth/students for finals sessions

Thursday: 10 a.m. prelims, 1 p.m. diving, 2:30 p.m. finals, 6 p.m. finals

Friday: 10 a.m. prelims, 11:40 a.m. diving, 2:15 p.m. diving finals, 5 p.m. diving finals, 6 p.m. finals

Saturday: 10 a.m. prelims, 11 a.m. diving, 4:40 p.m. diving finals, 6 p.m. finals

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