TAMPA — When Alex Jackson was in elementary school, he said he had “a Buddha belly.” It was a perfectly round belly, and it hung over his belt.
That’s how Jackson got the nickname, “Buda,” which is the way Jackson says he wants it spelled.
“I don’t really know anything about the real Buddha except that he was short and fat and people rubbed his belly for good luck,” Jackson said. “That’s why people rubbed my belly for good luck.”
These days, Alex “Buda” Jackson is a versatile Plant football star, and he doesn’t have anybody rubbing his belly for good luck.
Buda has no belly.
He has muscles rippling through his abdomen, and for that matter, through the rest of his 5-foot-8, 170-pound body.
He also runs the 40-yard dash in less than 4.5 seconds, has soft hands and can throw a football more than 70 yards, farther than any quarterback Plant coach Robert Weiner has ever had. And that is saying a lot, since Weiner’s list includes state champion quarterbacks Robert Marve, Aaron Murray, Phillip Ely and James Few.
“Buda will stand on the 50-yard line and throw a football through the goal posts,” Weiner said. “That’s 60 yards to the goal posts and it lands 10 yards beyond that. I’ve seen it many times.”
How does he do it?
“He just does,” Plant quarterback Colby Brown said. “It’s Buda.”
What else can Buda do? Well, this season he has rushed 94 times for 637 yards and five touchdowns, has caught 26 passes for 323 yards and four touchdowns, and returned a combined 21 punts and kickoffs for almost 400 yards. He’s also had a kickoff return for 99 yards, a rushing touchdown for 75 yards and a receiving touchdown of 70 yards.
Big Play Buda?
“You bet,” Weiner said.
In two of the biggest games this year — Sickles vs. Plant and last Friday’s Class 8A region semifinal, Orlando Dr. Phillips vs. Plant — Buda came up huge.
Against Sickles, trailing 20-17 with 2 minutes remaining, Buda completed his only pass of the season, a 44-yarder on a double-pass play. He followed on the next play with a leaping catch that involved ripping the ball from the Sickles defender in midair.
Plant went on to win 24-20.
Against Dr. Phillips, with Plant trailing 17-10 with 41 seconds left, Buda ran into the left side of the end zone and snagged a bullet from Brown just as Buda tapped his toes in bounds. Oh yes, Buda also ripped off a 44-yard touchdown earlier in the game.
Plant went on to win 24-23 in overtime.
This week — before Plant (10-1-1) plays in tonight’s Class 8A-Region 2 final against Fort Pierce Central (11-1) — Weiner said he knows Buda will be as good as ever, because the bigger the game, the bigger Buda shows up.
“When those Friday night lights come on, Buda shifts to a whole other gear,” Weiner said. “He is the perfect example of a ‘gamer.’ ”
Buda said he doesn’t think about performing. It just happens. He steps onto the field and into “the zone.”
“When I’m playing under those lights I feel free,” said Jackson, who added that he appreciates this year even more after sitting out last season with academic issues. “Nothing can bring me down during a game. When somebody hits me, I smile. When they talk trash to me, I smile. When they hit me again, I smile. I smile because I know I’m going to break free at some point. I smile because I love it.”
Buda smiles, Brown said, “Because Buda is the toughest guy I know.”
“I seriously don’t think he’s afraid of anything,” Brown said. “I’ve never seen him intimidated. I’ve never even seen him nervous, and seeing that gives you more confidence. Everybody feels good knowing Buda is out there with us.”
That’s why his name — Buda (spelled the way he likes it) — has appeared more frequently on Weiner’s typed pregame list of plays, which includes more of Buda at quarterback in the wildcat formation.
“I want to have that ball in my hands, because I feel I can make something happen for the team,” Buda said. “It’s what I’m supposed to do.”