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The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

The Student News Site of Northern Illinois University

Northern Star

From rehabilitation to ranked: the triumph of Jacobi Jackson

Redshirt sophomore heavyweight wrestler Jacobi Jackson scans his opponent in an NIU wrestling home match. Jackson suffered two major injuries before finishing his 2023-2024 season as a ranked wrestler. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)

Redshirt sophomore heavyweight wrestler Jacobi Jackson played a pivotal role in the Huskies’ pursuit of the MAC West title. Yet, his journey to success encountered significant obstacles, temporarily diverting him from his path to dominance.


Jackson was a highly touted recruit from Desmet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, Missouri.  

Jackson excelled in the Missouri High School Athletic Association, clinching the conference championship three times and securing a spot in the State Finals.

NIU wrestling head coach Ryan Ludwig identified Jackson’s compatibility with the program ethos.  

“He had good offense and liked to attack,” Ludwig said. “We just thought we could really do a lot with that style of wrestling. When we recruited him – which means we asked a lot about him – I knew his dad previously just through coaching ranks and we said, well, it was a great fit for him, it was a great fit for us and we were just excited to get started.”

For Ludwig, the selling point wasn’t only Jacobi’s potential as a competitor, but his larger-than-life personality and robust leadership.

“Kind of a magnetic personality – he’s always someone you want to be around,” Ludwig said. “He’s a happy guy who keeps it loose. Likes to joke around a lot, but then likes to compete at a very high level and has a very high competitive drive as well. A heavyweight with a good personality can really lift the team together because that’s kind of your anchor at the back of the lineup.”


Ludwig had set the framework to add Jackson to the pool of the 2021 recruits, with the firm belief that Jackson could hunker down heavyweight for the foreseeable future.

But fate had other plans. Jackson was sidelined ahead of the season opener with a labrum tear. 

Ludwig mentioned that although an injury like this isn’t severe, it can cause significant discomfort.

“The thing about that one is, that’s an injury that you can manage, but it’s a pain in the side,” Ludwig said. “So it’s like it’s not enough to keep you out, but it’s enough to put a thorn in your side.”


So, Jackson and NIU brass decided to remain sideline for a year’s worth of recovery. 

The labrum tear, however, marked just one of two season-ending setbacks. After a brief three-match return in the 2022-2023 season, the injury bug bit Jackson with a meniscus tear.

During this challenging period, Jackson turned to prayer and drew strength from his faith, maintaining a positive mindset and focusing on what he could do to overcome his setbacks.

“I really just prayed,” Jackson said. “Let God do the work, talk to my friends and family, have a strong mindset, a positive mindset, and I just trusted God to do what he had to do to help me.” 

As remarked by Jackson, finding a sense of conformity through spiritual worship lessened the impact on his mental psyche through the recovery process and his revamped perspective on life and sports.

“I’d say my perspective on wrestling and life evolved during these trials that I faced,” Jackson said. “I was just focused on getting ready to go – not too much focused on what I can’t do but focused on what I could do, to get better and just have a positive mindset.” 


Fully recuperated and meticulously trained, Jackson has been propelled to new heights – earning a heavyweight rank.

He finished 13-6 overall, lost a single conference bout, was NIU’s saving grace against the University at Buffalo and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and finished as WrestleStat’s No. 78-ranked heavyweight.

Jackson’s leadership style, characterized by positivity and empathy, resonated deeply with his teammates. The St. Louis, Missouri, native’s tireless pursuit through the recovery process taught redshirt freshman heavyweight Jordan Sommers to honor and hone adversity.

“Witnessing Jacobi’s comeback has been a huge blessing in my eyes,” Sommers said. “Because it’s shown me not to feel sorry for myself. He’s kept his head down while he works and has focused on helping his teammates just as much, if not more, than helping himself during those times.” 

Jackson’s unwavering growth and mental resilience have been truly awe-inspiring. His leadership style, characterized by leading by example, has uplifted the wrestling room.

“What has impressed me the most about Jacobi’s leadership is that despite the hard times he’s been through, he finds a way to wear a smile and enjoy the sport as much as he can,” Sommers said. “Jacobi has a special gift of knowing how to lift up others when they need it the most.”


Jackson’s journey from rehabilitation to recognition exemplifies resilience, determination and the power of faith. His story serves as an inspiration to athletes facing adversity, reminding them to persevere and never lose sight of their goals.
Jackson’s parting message to injury-burdened athletes encouraged finding comfort through prayer and putting their best foot forward every day.

“Advice that I give to other athletes dealing with setbacks and injuries – I’m always gonna say ‘pray on it,’” Jackson said. “Talk to God, he’s always there for me. He’ll always be there for you whenever you’re going through a hard time. Be positive and just don’t be down on yourself with something you cannot control.”  

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