When Keith Jackson first arrived on campus at Capilano University, he had no visions of becoming one of the highest scorers in the history of the PacWest soccer league.
He didn’t even know if he was going to play on the team.
Jackson wasn’t recruited at all, and chose Capilano because it was close to home – he’s a Seycove Secondary grad – and the university had a program that fit his academic goals. He’d played gold-level soccer growing up along with other sports like football, basketball and inline hockey, and he figured he might as well take a shot at soccer at his new school. He emailed then-coach Paul Dailly to ask if he could come by an open tryout, and then hit the field.
“I remember just being really nervous going to the field that first day,” said Jackson. “I wasn’t very big, going against some older and more experienced players than I’d ever played against before. … When I left the field I wasn’t sure I was going to make the team.”
He did make the team, and while it took him a couple of years to solidify a starting role on the Blues, the late bloomer has now, five seasons later, solidified his spot as one of the top players in the history of the powerhouse program and the second-leading scorer in the history of the league.
The legend of Keith Jackson grew even larger over the weekend when the fifth-year forward scored three of Capilano’s four goals as the Blues picked up a pair of crucial road wins over Vancouver Island University to end regular season play. The two wins, both by identical 2-0 scores, put the Blues into a tie for first-place in the league with the Douglas College Royals. The Blues, however, held the tie-breaker and were awarded first place, a standing that earned them two huge perks: a spot in this weekend’s PacWest provincial final, and a berth in the CCAA soccer national championships scheduled for Nov. 6-10 in Prince Edward Island.
Jackson ended the season with 13 goals in 12 games, winning the PacWest goal scoring title for the third straight season. That gives him 44 goals in 60 career regular season, second in league history behind former Blues player Corey Birza, who scored 49 goals in 68 games.
“We actually don’t really celebrate that much when he scores, we’re just expecting it,” said Capilano coach Alex Elliott, who took over from Dailly prior to this season. “He’s such a consistent player.”
Elliott said there isn’t much trickery to Jackson’s goal-scoring prowess. He’s simply a big, strong, physical, hard-working player who is going to challenge defenders and charge towards goal all game long.
“That directness is very frightening for any defender he matches up against because of his physical size and his desire to constantly drive things towards the goal,” said Elliott. “It’s a simple, direct approach that when repeated enough times is going to be effective. It’s really nice to see especially in today’s modern game where things can get overcomplicated. He really does find a way to simplify things. He’s such an amazing student athlete, and you say ‘student’ first because he’s an all-Canadian from an academic standpoint as well.”
Jackson, meanwhile, is very quick to deflect praise over his ownership of the goal-scoring leaderboard over the past three years. A lot of people have helped place him second on the all-time PacWest scoring list, he said.
“It speaks to the players that we’ve had here at Cap and also the coaches to get me where I am on that list,” he said. “If you would have told me that (I’d be second in league history) five years ago I would have started laughing: ‘That’s a joke.’ It definitely speaks to the quality of coaches and players and just the overall athletic department here at Cap that I’m on that list.”
Jackson is also quick to list the other players who have pushed the Blues into the provincial final and booked a berth in the national championships this season, notably fellow fifth-year goalkeeper Hudson Nelles.
Nelles played every minute of all 12 regular season games for the Blues this year, giving up just 14 goals while recording shutouts in half the games.
“He’s been playing unreal all year,” said Jackson. “To have someone back there you know and can be confident that is going to stop every shot, that’s a big thing for us.”
Elliott said he’s leaned heavily on both Jackson, the team’s captain, and Nelles during his first season and Cap’s head coach.
“As fifth years they’ve been in the national final before,” he said. “When we kind of regrouped in the summer, they had their say in what they wanted out of the season and it didn’t actually include winning anything, it included creating new bonds to really create a group that had a chance to succeed in every minute, not just in one final game or one final championship.”
They will, however, now get those single game shots at glory. On Saturday the Blues will play in the PacWest championship final against the winner of Friday’s semifinal between Douglas and Langara.
Win or lose, the Blues will then head to Prince Edward Island where they’ll try to win their first national title since 2008.
“The expectations for nationals are high,” said Jackson. “I think we have the best goalie, Hudson Nelles, in the whole country in our league, and the best backline as well with Eric Swanson back there and Andres Romo. And then moving up to the top we have some amazing players that can score, that can set plays up.”
“We’re able to keep ourselves in any game, and we’re offensively potent enough to score four or five goals in a 20-minute period,” added Elliott. “I think that’s true against any opponent within the CCAA.”
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Capilano is the host school for this weekend’s PacWest soccer championships with all games being played at Burnaby Lake Sports Complex West. The men’s final between Capilano and the Douglas/Langara winner will be played Saturday starting at 2:30 p.m.
On the women’s side the Blues finished third in the league and will play Douglas in the PacWest semifinal Friday starting at noon. The winner of that match will meet top-ranked VIU in the provincial final Saturday at noon.