With his rare combination of size and speed, Jacobs is a gifted young man. Auburn head coach Tommy Tuberville called him "a phenom." Jacobs is also a testament to what is good about a sport that has come to so often be viewed with cynicism and even sometimes with disdain.
Back home in Assumption Parish, La., Jacobs almost slipped through the cracks. He was a high school football star, but in the classroom, he'd been all but written off. A discipline problem in his younger years, he'd been placed in special education classes. In the spring of 2001, he was a senior in name only. He had no hope of graduating. "The way things were headed in my life, I wasn't supposed to be here sitting in this chair," Jacobs said after practice Sunday. But Jacobs was sitting there, talking about a promising college football career and about wanting to get a degree in communications. He was articulate and thoughtful, talking with the conviction of one who has seen life from all sides.
It is easy in this day of millionaire coaches and recruiting scandals to be cynical. It is easy to scoff at the term "student-athlete." Then you talk to a guy like Brandon Jacobs. Had it not been for athletics, Jacobs would have probably been lost in the system, uneducated and doomed to a life of poverty and struggle. Instead, he has an opportunity to live a dream, to play in the NFL and earn a college degree.
Auburn wide receiver coach Greg Knox recruited Jacobs. He and head coach Tommy Tuberville encouraged Jacobs to go to Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College, to not give up. They signed him to a scholarship and told him it would still be there when he did what had to be done in junior college.
Jacobs took their advice. He went to Coffeyville and went to work. He earned his high school equivalency diploma. Not only was he a standout on the football field, he was a standout in the classroom. He graduated with honors a semester early, making it possible to get an early start on his college career. He says getting a degree is as much his mission at Auburn as is playing football.
The job isn't done. Jacobs still has to show he can run in college football's fast lane. He still has to show he can succeed an academic environment that will be far more demanding than what he has experienced before. You get the feeling talking to him that he'll meet those challenges head on. Jacobs came to Auburn when it might really have made more sense for him to go elsewhere. He joined a program already loaded at tailback. He could have gone to another high-profile school and immediately been the bellcow. Instead, he happily accepted the challenge of competing for playing time with Carnell Williams, Ronnie Brown and Tre Smith. He was loyal to the coaches who had been loyal to him, who had believed in him when others didn't.
It hasn't been easy. It took hard work on the football field and in the classroom. The only thing Jacobs was given was an opportunity. He made the most of it in junior college. On Sunday, he embarked on a great adventure. There is no way to be certain that Jacobs will make it big as a running back in the Southeastern Conference. There's no way to be certain he will get a degree. But he has a chance because he earned it.
Jacobs has already beaten the odds. He has answered doubters with hard work and determination. Sunday, with a smile on his face, he went to join his teammates on the Auburn practice field.