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Jackson Acker can’t wait to play football for the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 2021.

Right now, though, the Verona junior’s biggest hope is to throw the discus in a competition that counts for the Wildcats’ boys track and field team.

The 6-foot-1, 215-pound Acker is the definition of an athlete.

As a sophomore in 2019, he placed second in the WIAA Division 1 state meet with a discus throw of 171-5, and added a ninth-place finish in the shot put (52-4).

Later that month, he committed to the Badgers’ football program — and rushed for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns in just eight games for the Wildcats as a junior running back.

Acker said when he was officially invited to commit to the Badger, his decision was easy.

“The coaches brought me up to Coach (Paul) Chryst’s office, and it was really emotional at the time,” Acker said. “It was everything that I wanted.”

And now, working out alone due to the COVID-19 pandemic that has closed schools and cut off athletic practices and competitions across the area, state and country, Acker is focusing on getting better.

“We wouldn’t be the same team without him,” Verona boys track and field coach Joff Pedretti said. “He’s strong, he’s fast, he’s coordinated. It’s just a rare combination. … I’ve seen guys who are all three, just not at that same level.”

Throughout Pedretti’s competition and coaching careers, he has seen plenty:

Pedretti competed in the hurdles for perennial Division III championship contender UW-La Crosse.

In his high school days at Verona, Pedretti was teammates with Luke Sullivan, the state-meet record holder in the discus who had the best marks in the nation for two years and went on to a standout career at UCLA.

And Pedretti's sister, Jill Pedretti (now Ross), holds the WIAA state-meet record in the discus and was a standout at the University of North Carolina.

Both Sullivan and Jill Pedretti went on to be NCAA Championship qualifiers at the Division I level. 

“If I remember correctly, Luke’s sophomore record was 171 feet and some inches,” Joff Pedretti said. “(Acker) threw 191 feet (as a sophomore). So now you’re talking about Luke Sullivan, who was a two-time national (high school) champion … and (Acker) broke his sophomore discus record by 20 feet. I mean, that’s insane!”

Acker’s big throw didn’t come on pure talent alone; he’s been putting in work for a long time. And, he says, his mother has been his motivation.

“In all my sports, my mom has been supporting me through all of it,” said Acker, the defending Big Eight Conference champ in discus and shot put. “(She’s) a single mother and pays for all my stuff. I feel that me doing my best athletically, and getting the football scholarship, is a first step of me paying her back.”

Pedretti said Acker’s work ethic is simply at another level.

“Typically, when someone has more talent than most of the people at their grade level, they either take it for granted or they know that 90% (effort) is good enough to remain better than everybody else,” Pedretti said. “He is not one of those guys. He’s a guy that keeps working hard, just like the scrappy kid that’s really hungry trying to come up.”

Acker’s teammates know he’ll contribute to the Badgers’ football program when he wraps up his career at Verona next spring.

“He’ll come in there and work for this spot,” said Graham Stier, Acker’s teammate in football and track. “He’s really dedicated outside of football, too, with school. He’s a well-rounded person. He’ll be good for the Badgers community.”


Get to know the Wisconsin Badgers' 2021 football recruiting class

This article originally ran on madison.com.

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