Niki Jackson focuses on scoring goals and creating opportunities for his teammates. (Photo by Ben Halverson/Cronkite News)

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Valley soccer standout Niki Jackson helps build GCU program


Ben Halverson
Cronkite News

PHOENIX – Niki Jackson had his choice of well-established college soccer programs coming out of Cactus Shadows High School and Casa Grande’s Real Salt Lake Academy.

One of the top players in Arizona, Jackson received numerous offers to play for top-tier programs including Washington, Nevada-Las Vegas and Akron. Washington and Akron are ranked among the top 25 in the latest NCAA Division I rankings.

Instead, Jackson decided to make his own mark and try to help Grand Canyon University join the elite programs.

“I had a long discussion with my parents before I decided where I wanted to go,” Jackson said.

Intrigued by the opportunity to help build a program and establish a winning culture, Jackson decided to stay home and play at GCU.

“The program wasn’t that big at first so I kind of came here trying, in my mind, to put GCU on the map from a soccer aspect,” Jackson said. “So when I came here, I wanted to be able to make a name for not only myself, but the school and the soccer program as well.

“The other schools already had big names. I wanted to come here and make this school a big name.”

Jackson has been one of the many bright spots early in the 2016 season for GCU. The forward has scored a team-high six goals and 13 points in the first eight games.

“Right now we’d hate to think what our team is like without him because he’s that important to us,” said GCU coach Schellas Hyndman. “He makes opponents have to adjust to him.”

However, there was more to Jackson’s decision than what the Antelopes had to offer on the soccer pitch.

“The main reason why I came here is for my family and friends to be able to come watch me play,” Jackson said. “I know my brother looks up to me when I’m playing soccer, so he always comes up here. My family has been to every game.”

Jackson’s 13-year-old brother Zack plays several sports, including soccer. Jackson’s bond with his brother and family has helped create more memories than he imagined when he decided to come to GCU.

“It’s always awesome to see my fans and my friends and family come out and watch me play,” he said. “So, that’s the majority of the reason why I decided to come here and stay home.”

As the coach of FC Dallas of the MLS prior to arriving at GCU, Hyndman knows what it takes for a player to make it on the professional level. And he believes Jackson has that potential.

“The one area that you always want your strikers to have, is for them to be courageous,” Hyndman said. “And he’s a pretty courageous kid. He puts his head where a lot of people won’t. He’s scored some brilliant goals in the last two years for us. He brings those qualities. He has aspirations of playing professionally one day and this is kind of like the training ground for him.”

As a teammate, Jackson has taken up the role of a leader on the team. Senior midfielder Daniel Wall recognizes his leadership role and says the team “looks up to him because of the way he strives on the field.”

As the Antelopes prepare for full NCAA Division I status and postseason eligibility next season, Jackson looks to lead the team to their first NCAA Tournament berth, which would be a sure sign that he has helped lay the groundwork for GCU’s program.