His coaches at Gaithersburg were amazed by the sheer physical talent of Robert Jackson, but they were equally amazed at his lapses in concentration.

In the spring of 1986, in Jackson's first season of track and field competition, he won state Class AA titles in the high jump and triple jump and barely missed winning the long jump championship.

He is the first to admit an inability to keep his mind on the business at hand may have cost him that long jump title.

"Sometimes I have a tendency to go into the crowd and talk too much," said Jackson, a chiseled 6 feet 3 and 187 pounds. "Like in the regional high jump, there were still two people to go before me and it was my last jump. Then I saw my old coach in the crowd and, instead of concentrating on the event, I went and talked to him."

Said Gaithersburg assistant coach Fred Joyce, "That's probably the story of the season, really . . . Even last year, he could've tripled in the state. He was winning until the last jump of the long jump finals and then he lost his concentration."

"I'll never forget that," said Jackson. "I ran my hardest down the runway and I felt my foot hit the board and I landed, then I heard the guy yell 'Scratch.' They didn't measure it, but I know it was well above 23 feet."

A jump of 23 feet would have given him an easy victory.

The soft-spoken Jackson was the top all-around jumper in Montgomery County this past season. He won the high jump, long jump and triple jump in both the county and region meets. He won the high jump in the Class AA state meet at 6-6 and finished second in the long jump and triple jump.

Jackson practically backed into the No. 1 jumping position on a revitalized Trojans team a year ago. His prime objective in choosing track over baseball, which is what he dabbled in the season before, was to prepare for his second season on the varsity football squad.

"Football is all I wanted to play. I wanted to go somewhere with it," he said.

Yet even though Jackson may not have been totally devoted, at least at the beginning, to track and field, there was never any doubt about his potential.

"He has tremendous ability and we put him in all three jumps and he did exceptional in those," said Joyce. "I had planned to put him in the high hurdles but that never developed because the training in the other three takes a lot of time."

That Jackson was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time is testimony to his talent. Although he had never played organized football until entering high school, this past season he was good enough to be chosen first-team All-Met after leading Gaithersburg to the Class AA state title. He was recruited by the University of Maryland, among other schools.