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
JP Benzschawel, an offensive lineman out of Grafton, was the first recruit in the Badgers’ 2021 class, continuing the family tradition at UW.
Benzschawel’s brothers, Beau (2015-18) and Luke (2016-19) played offensive line and tight end, respectively, for the Badgers. His father, Scott (1983-87) and uncle Eric (1988-92) also played football for UW.
Benzschawel is one of the top-ranked offensive tackles in the country. A four-star recruit on 247sports, and ESPN, and a three-star on Rivals, Benzschawel is a top-200 recruit nationally by 247sports and ESPN.
Blessed and honored to be verbally committing to the University of Wisconsin to play football! #OnWisconsin #GoBadgers 🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/04616mdfIp— JP Benzschawel (@jp_benzschawel) February 1, 2019
Jackson Acker, a running back from Verona, committed to the Badgers soon after receiving an offer in June 2019.
UW was Acker’s first scholarship offer after his sophomore season, but he used it as momentum for a strong junior campaign at Verona High School. He was a first-team running back on the Wisconsin State Journal’s All-Area team, rushing for 929 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight games.
Acker is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
Deacon Hill, a quarterback from Santa Barbara, Calif., committed to the Badgers in July 2019.
A 6-foot-4, 225-pound, pro-style prospect, Hill was part of wave of recruiting commitments for UW. Hill turned down offers from Kansas State and Nevada in favor of the Badgers.
Hill turned heads at an Elite 11 regional camp in California with his big arm and deep throws. He is the lone quarterback thus far in the 2021 class, and the 2020 class added just one in walk-on Daniel Wright.
Hill is listed as a three-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
@throw_to_win @Coach_Jordan_4 @SB_DonsFootball @K12Elite @Feholi @JohnUribe5 pic.twitter.com/BD28OvfTft— Deacon Pe’a Hill (@dhillsb10) June 25, 2019
Loyal Crawford, a running back from Eau Claire, Wis., committed to the Badgers in August 2019.
A fast, shifty and explosive back, Crawford was limited to five games as a junior due to injury. Still, he tallied 671 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns in that span. He was one of the first freshmen to suit up for a varsity game at Eau Claire Memorial High School.
Crawford — listed at 6-foot and 190 pounds — is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
UW’s scholarship offer the first Division I offer Crawford had received, according to multiple outlets.
Riley Mahlman, an offensive lineman from Lakeville, Minn., committed to the Badgers after watching them defeat Michigan at Camp Randall Stadium in September 2019.
Mahlman is ranked as a four-star prospect by 247sports and ESPN, and a three-star by Rivals. He’s ranked as the top recruit in the state of Minnesota by 247sports and ESPN, and the No. 2 Minnesota product by Rivals. UW beat out Ohio State, Iowa, Minnesota, Michigan State, Florida and others for Mahlman.
With Mahlman and 2020 linebacker Kaden Johnson, the Badgers secured the top-ranked recruit out of Minnesota in consecutive years.
The 6-foot-7, 265-pound tackle also played tight end for Lakeville South High School.
COMMITTED!!🔴⚪️ pic.twitter.com/IZ1T9lX3ka— Riley Mahlman (@riley_mahlman) September 22, 2019
Bryan Sanborn, an inside linebacker from Lake Zurich, Ill., committed to UW in December 2019.
Sanborn, the younger brother of Badgers inside linebacker Jack Sanborn, is a three-star recruit according to 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound prospect had a handful of Power Five offers, including Iowa, Minnesota and Nebraska. Bryan’s late father, Paul, played football at Oregon.
COMMITTED... pic.twitter.com/xrTFVj7NdK— Bryan Sanborn (@bryan_sanborn21) December 13, 2019
Ayo Adebogun, a linebacker/defensive end hailing from Mequon, committed to the Badgers in December 2019.
The 6-foot-3, 205-pounder was a second-team all-state selection by the Wisconsin Associated Press as a junior, a season in which he tallied 16 sacks and 75 total tackles.
The Homestead High School product is a three-star recruit per 247sports, Rivals and ESPN.
COMMITTED!! pic.twitter.com/vLaGE2dCjH— Ayo Adebogun (@AdebogunAyo) December 16, 2019
Hunter Wohler, a safety out of Muskego, orally committed to UW just before Christmas 2019.
Rated by multiple recruiting sites as the best or second-best prospect in Wisconsin in his class, Wohler helped Muskego to an unbeaten record and a WIAA Division I state championship as a junior. Wohler had 122 total tackles and two interceptions as a junior, and he was named the state’s Associated Press' player of the year.
Wohler — listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds — is rated as a four-star recruit by 247sports, Rivals, and ESPN. He’s ranked as the No. 298 overall prospect in the 2021 class by ESPN.
#OnWisconsin ⚪️🔴 @CoachKhalif @jimleonhard pic.twitter.com/diJgUpSppb— Hunter Wohler (@HunterWohler) December 24, 2019
Jake Chaney, a linebacker out of Lehigh Acres, Fla., committed to the Badgers in March 2020.
The 6-foot, 200-pound prospect is a three-star recruit according to 247sports and Rivals.
He was the District 7A player of the year last season after recording 100 tackles as a junior. Jake Chaney’s father, James, is his coach at Lehigh Senior High School and played at Florida State from 1988-1991.
Chaney was the third linebacker and ninth overall recruit in the 2021 class.
MY RECRUITMENT IS 100% SHUT DOWN‼️ #ALLIN #OnWisconsin pic.twitter.com/ur4p6KP1DZ— Jake Chaney (@JakeChaney9) March 15, 2020