Desean Jackson is in the rarest of company. Many boys grow up with a dream of playing in the NFL, but most will never play beyond high school. In African-American culture, many young men long for a father even more than playing in the NFL–Desean Jackson got both. To further stack the deck against Desean Jackson, at a frame of 5’9″ 174 lbs. (weighed in at 169 lbs. at the NFL combine), most will not even be considered by NFL scouts. So how does a person get to be so lucky? Or so talented? Or being blessed with a childhood that is conducive towards being continually inspired to reaching new heights by his father? We will save the complicated conglomeration of sociological, theological, psychological and biological factors that all certainly contribute towards the making of a star for another piece. Instead, the interest of this article is to appreciate the journey of one NFL player that is loaded with a heck-of-a-lot of talent.
One Great Pops:
One would be amiss to say that Desean was the only Jackson child growing up that was the beneficiary of a having a great dad. Jackson is the son of Bill and Gayle Jackson and has two older brothers Byron and William, one younger brother Desmond, one older sister A’dreea and one younger sister Delaney. Not to complicate family matters, though, but to further laud praise towards Desean’s father (Bill), the family includes an adopted daughter and three other boys Bill raised because they lacked father figures in their lives.
It was not uncommon for Bill to take his sons to the park and run pass patterns and drills in order to push them toward the goal of making it to the NFL. His wife, Gayle, perhaps thought he might have pushed the boys too hard, “Oh, he pushed them…to the point sometime where they even questioned themselves.” There were times where even Desean felt he was pushed beyond the 100% effort he felt like he was giving. Yet, it was the hard work ethic that Bill was trying to instill within his boys that earned him respect as their father. “I respected him,” Desean says. “I trusted him.”
Bill was such a big believer in his children that he tried to cast a vision before them with particular dream statements. He would tell Byron, who eventually made it all the way to the Kansas City Chiefs’ practice squad for two years, “Think NFL.” The dream statement he issued to Desean was, “Think Heisman” (Desean did end up becoming a Heisman candidate in 2007 at the University of California).
Desean and his father were inseparable, often driving around together in Los Angeles in a faded red Datsun 260Z from practices to scrimmages to games. On Sundays, Desean and his father would sit back and relax on the couch watching NFL games together as early as age five, when Desean remembers beginning to dream of playing in the NFL. Today, Desean Jackson does not take his father for granted. He realizes that most of his peers grew up without one. In Desean’s words, his father meant everything to him, “To have that father relationship, there’s nothing like it . . . That’s your buddy.”
Unfortunately, Bill’s time on earth was cut short as he was stricken by pancreatic cancer and passed away on May 14th, 2009. However, Bill was alive long enough to see his son catch a 62-yard touchdown in the NFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 against the Arizona Cardinals. After the game Bill was still able to call his son from his hospital bed and tell him, “You played a great game…you made me proud.”
A father’s love and investment has an incredible impact on a son. After Byron gave up his dream of playing in the NFL he decided to use his filming talents and create a documentary on his father called the William Jackson Project which shows the type of man his father was– a man who loved life and a strong passion for hard work who wanted nothing more than to see his sons succeed in life.
Desean Jackson may not have been one of the bigger kids growing up, but he certainly was one of the fastest. His 4.3 second speed in the 40 has been turning heads since his playing days at Long Beach Polytechnic High School in L.A. His senior year he caught 60 passes for 1,075 yards and 15 touchdowns (eight of which measured at least 60 yards). In the CIF Southern Section championship game he was asked to step up to help his team on the defensive end. He in turn rewarded his team with two interceptions, one in which he scampered 68 yards for a touchdown as he played a huge role in his team’s victory.
Jackson was selected as Southern California’s player of the year in 2004 by the Los Angeles Times. He also was an outstanding baseball player and was scouted by the Phillies and Devil Rays. He was selected to the Parade Magazine All-American and ESPN.com’s Tom Lemming rated him as the No. 4 wide receiver in the country.
Jaskson was recruited by many colleges, including USC, as he was considered one of the top wide receivers in our nation. He finally decided to go against USC because he wanted to establish his own identity and course that would be contrary to so many other players that went the Poly-USC route. He wanted to “start my own legacy.” Ironically enough, his future Eagles teammates Winston Justice and Pago Togafau also played at Long Beach Poly.
University of California:
If anyone had the Midas touch and could turn anything into gold immediately it was Desean Jackson. From the moment he was inserted as a defensive replacement at the last second of a high school championship game, in which he responded with two interceptions and a touchdown, to his first two touches on the collegiate field he has proved to be golden (a Golden Bear at that). His first touch resulted in a 31-yard touchdown vs. Sacramento State in the season opener and his second touch resulted in a 49-yard punt return for a touchdown.
In 2005, Desean Jackson’s freshman year, he led the Bears with 38 catches and 601 yards. In 2006 Desean increased his yardage output to 1,060 yards on 59 catches. He also returned 4 punts for touchdowns (one was 95 yards). Jackson set the school and Pac-10 punt returns for a touchdown records for season (4) and career punt return TDs (5). Selected to the first-team All-Pac-10 as a wide receiver and made first-team All-America punt returner by the Associated Press. In 2007, even though his yardage seen a drop (762), he topped his season best in receptions (65). He once again earned first-team All-America and was selected second-team All-Pac-10.
On Jan. 15, 2008, Desean announced he would forfeit his senior year of college in order to declare himself eligible for the 2008 NFL draft. At that time Mel Kiper rated him as the No. 1 junior receiver in the nation to be recruited by the pros.
Philadelphia Eagles and the NFL:
In 2008, Desean Jackson and his father realized a dream come true. Desean was chosen in the second round (18th pick) by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL. The Eagles were looking for someone that could get their team into great field position with a person with great punt return ability–in which Desean had proven he possessed in college. Coach Andy Reid attempted to get an early return from his investment when Desean Jackson became the first ever rookie to start on opening day under Reid. Again, just as the gold rush always seemed to come early, quick and seemed to follow “Mr. Midas Touch” wherever he went, the dividends paid off quickly again as Jackson had six receptions for 106 yards and 97 punt return yards for 203 all purpose yards–a rookie record, against the Rams on September 7. Jackson’s 912 receiving yards during his sensational first season set an Eagles’ rookie record. He was also the first ever rookie to lead the team in receptions.
To show that his sophomore year was no fluke, Jackson kept the gold coming immediately when in week one of the 2009 season he returned a punt 85 yards for a touchdown against the Panthers. Again, Jackson ended the season as the Eagles’ leading receiver with 1,167 yards. He was also selected to the 2010 Pro Bowl. Fantasy football lovers have come to love Desean Jackson as well as he has proven his consistent point production from week to week. Before it is all said and done I believe the “gold” will follow Jackson all the way to Canton, Ohio.