FSU's Jared Jackson defied the odds once; can he do it again?
When it comes to chasing his football dreams, Jared Jackson doesn’t look for much of an invitation. Just the slightest hint of an opportunity is more than enough.
After his high school career at tiny Aucilla Christian Academy in Monticello, Fla., it was merely the suggestion that he could join the team as a walk-on wide receiver that brought him to Florida State University.
He would soon parlay that opening into a starring role on special teams and eventually a spot as one of the Seminoles’ team captains in 2017.
Now, despite playing sparingly on offense during his four years in college, Jackson has his sights set on an even loftier goal -- one that even he acknowledges might sound far-fetched.
Instead of throwing himself into a career in real estate, which was his original plan after earning his degree and finishing his college eligibility, Jackson now is training up to two times a day in an effort to catch the eye of an NFL team at FSU’s annual Pro Day event next month.
“I realize it’s a long shot,” Jackson said after a recent training session. “But it was a long shot to go from a walk-on to a team captain at Florida State. I like to set high goals for myself.”
It also helps if there’s that hint of an opportunity. And in this instance, that window of hope came in the form of a practice field conversation between an NFL scout and an FSU staffer this past fall.
During a special-teams portion of practice, the scout asked if the coaches could find out whether a certain player was going to participate in the Seminoles’ Pro Day in March. The FSU staff member automatically assumed he was inquiring about All-America safety Derwin James, who was expected to declare early for the draft.
“No, I’m talking about Jared Jackson,” the scout said.
The scout explained that his team would be in attendance for FSU’s Pro Day and would like to see Jackson work out. They had noticed him making plays on special teams, and they were hoping to see him go through drills in person.
“That’s when it hit me that I might have something going with this special-teams thing,” said Jackson, who also was FSU's holder on field goals this past season.
Although he was only credited with seven tackles as a senior, Jackson was almost always the first FSU player down the field on kickoff coverage. He also recorded 11 tackles as a junior, filling the same role -- and his 18 tackles over the past two seasons actually ranks higher than several scholarship players who participated on special teams and defense.
Even with the jolt of confidence he received from the NFL scout’s comment, however, Jackson wasn’t entirely sure how much time he wanted to invest in preparing for pre-draft workouts. He was definitely going to give it a try, but he also knew his safer bet would be studying for his real estate license.
Then just about three weeks ago, it hit him -- a career in the business world would always be there. A chance to work out in front of dozens of NFL scouts would only come once.
“I realized it’s something I don’t want to halfway do,” Jackson said. “I didn’t want to look back one day and regret that I didn’t give it my all.”
After coming to that conclusion, Jackson began working out at Tallahassee’s Titus Sports Academy with Titus CEO Adam Faurot, a former FSU and professional baseball player. After doing some base-line physical testing, Faurot gave Jackson some encouragement coupled with advice.
Jackson’s numbers were impressive as a starting point -- impressive enough that Faurot was convinced he could turn the heads of at least some NFL scouts by Pro Day, which typically is held in late-March. That would give him about two months to prepare.
“But he told me if you’re gonna do this, you’ll need to work out at least five times a week,” Jackson said.
Jackson has been doing just that, and then some. He is in the gym once or twice a day, he has gotten serious about nutrition and recovery for perhaps the first time in his life, and he also is working on receiving drills with former FSU star Kez McCorvey at least once or twice a week.
McCorvey, who is a local high school coach and also runs youth camps for wide receivers, has been providing Jackson with guidance on everything from route-running and fundamentals to drills that will make him a more explosive athlete.
“He’s been great,” Jackson said of McCorvey, who played in the NFL before coaching in the CFL and on the college level. “The biggest thing we’re working on is being explosive coming out of my cuts. Being able to accelerate after one step as opposed to two or three steps.”
As was the case during his years at Florida State, Jackson has plenty of supporters.
When he first arrived at FSU, former Seminoles star quarterback Jameis Winston dubbed him "Action Jackson." And he currently is being represented by another of his old teammates, former FSU walk-on linebacker Joseph Hernandez, who is beginning his career as a sports agent after serving as a student assistant coach with the Seminoles in 2015 and 2016.
Hernandez believes Jackson can follow the path of another one of their former teammates, defensive back Javien Elliott, who earned an opportunity with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers two years ago despite not being on scholarship at Florida State.
Elliott first earned a camp invitation with an impressive Pro Day performance, then grabbed a spot on the Bucs’ practice squad, and he eventually was added to the team’s roster. He has even started one game in each of his first two seasons, although his greatest contributions have come on special teams.
“Everybody in the NFL has a role,” Hernandez said. “If you’re not in the starting lineup, you’d better be able to play special teams -- and that’s something Jared takes a lot of pride in.”
By the time Pro Day rolls around, Hernandez said Jackson should be running 40 yards in the high-4.4s. And with the increased intensity of his workout schedule, he likely will add more muscle to his 6-foot-2, 200-pound frame.
“It’s just a matter of him doing the work and then getting in front of the right people,” Hernandez said, adding that he’s excited to work with a client who is so motivated to make his dream a reality. “We’re both very hungry.”