DeSean Jackson is a sophomore wide receiver at Cal who is already attracting attention as a potentially great receiver. He is also known for having a bit of a cocky attitude about himself and his performance. We decided to explore that with him.
DeSean, you have a strong attitude that says "I'm going to be a winner". Where did that come from?
It came from being around sports all my life, from growing up seeing my brother play football through college and the NFL. I've always been able to see my older brother play this game of football. It's the greatest sport to play - I've always loved it. It's something I've always been around since I was young.
Your brother's name?
Byron Jackson. He's about 35 now, and I'm 19. He played with the Kansas City Chiefs from 1992 through 1995. Like I said ... when I was younger I used to be on the sidelines for ... the Raider games when they played against the Chiefs.
It was good excitement being on the field, being able to look on the field at an NFL game and to see them. I always saw myself following in his footsteps and being in that role.
What kind of guy was he? His attitude, his work ethic?
Actually, he was a quiet kind of guy. He never talked too much. His personality and mine are like two entirely different people. I got the best of both worlds, though - when I was growing up with my brother, he had good friends who wound up like my brothers, too. My god-brothers, I guess. I've got about three god-brothers who just always have been around my brother and playing football with him.
I took them on like older brothers - all four of them together. I get the best of all those different atmospheres. I had a "brother" who played defensive back, my older brother played wide receiver, I had a "brother" who played quarterback and a "brother" who played wide receiver, and so their mentalities were all different.
And you really looked up to them?
Definitely. I mean, everything they told me, I took it in as good knowledge. I always learned. I actually think I've got the mentality of my team of half-brothers - which - Travis Clark and Gary Davis, which is the mentality of "I'm the best, I'm the greatest, and nobody can stop me."
It's just something I've been thinking since I was younger.
Do you use that on the football field?
I don't go around saying that, but when I'm on the football field, it's something I have in my head. I don't ever want to be stopped. I don't feel anyone can hold me. I want to be a dynamic receiver, and be the best at the things that I do.
You've got to have the attitude that you can't be stopped. If you have the attitude that somebody can stop you, then you are not out there doing your best. I just look at it that way, and, hopefully, no one can stop me.
An athlete who achieved the highest ranks in athletics, the young boxer Muhammed Ali, was known for his brash remarks that both told listeners about his attitudes and worked well as marketing ploys. "I'm young, I'm beautiful and can't possibly be beat," he once said.
Henry Ford was more succinct it making the point that a person's attitudes can greatly influence that person's accomplishments, saying, "If you think you can or can't, you're right."
So, DeSean, you tell yourself you are the best ... then you have to go out and live up to your own expectations.
Yes, definitely, that's one of the biggest things. People can talk a lot of stuff, and all the talking doesn't mean anything. What really matters is what you do in between the white lines. Ever since I've been playing this game, every time we get on the field between the white lines, I become one of those people who every time I get the ball in my hands I try to come up with a nice play, or do something spectacular.
For instance, in a football game, if a quarterback throws an interception, I will try to come out of nowhere to make a tackle and keep the dude from scoring. I just want to be in a spot to always make a great play, and for everyone to be able to recognize that I made the great play.
So you think about that a lot - but isn't it impossible to maintain a high level of focus everyday?
Yeah, there's a lot of days (in a season) you know. It's a long season being in college football, going to class, going to practice. Your mind can just be taken out of the mode of practicing a lot. You've got to stay focused, remember what you are here for, to get better every day.
Coach Tedford and the coaches do a good job of pushing us and getting the best effort out of us. Sometimes, you do get a little slacky, but you've just got to push it off. Only the strong ones are going to be able to put that to the side and keep going.
What kind of tough situations have you run into so far? How about academics? How are you doing with that here at Cal?
My first semester I did pretty good, I got a 2.8 GPA, which I think is pretty good for a freshman at Cal Berkeley.
I never really struggled with any classes - I have tutors helping me, all those good things. School's been going good. I'm happy coming to Berkeley. I didn't expect it to go as smooth as it has, I expected some struggles. The help they give us here is great, and I'm taking advantage of all that.
Perhaps you could summarize some highlights of your high school career?
In high school - I kind of feel like that was the start of all the superstar potential in me - all the good things I had going for me at Long Beach Poly High School.
I'm not from the area of Long Beach, so it's kind of weird how I wound up (there). I grew up in Los Angeles, and Long Beach Poly has a great football team - so I just made the decision to go there.
And the school district let you attend whatever school you wanted?
I had to get a transfer from the LA district to allow me to go to Poly. It was kind of weird, because all the LA schools were trying for that not to happen, but the main district principal let it go through.
And you were clear to everyone that football was the reason you wanted to go there?
Definitely. The only reason for me attending Long Beach Poly was the football. Going back to what I was going to say, my father and my brothers always had the mentality of me going to Long Beach Poly. There's a lot of great athletes there. It's ... like going to a Division I college. You are going to have to get in, there's a lot of good players there already, you have to go in and earn a spot.
So that was clear to you even as you began high school?
Yeah, that's kind of the mentality I took going into high school. It was kind of a head start for me. I went out there, expected to work hard to earn a spot, nothing was given to me. My freshman year I played really good on the freshman team, and I gotmoved up onto the varsity at the end of the year.
That was the start of everything - me earning a spot and the coaches knowing how good of a talent I was. It was good to get out there and compete with all the great people Poly had on that team.
What was your parents' situation at that time?
I was living with my Dad and my Mom was living in Atlanta, Georgia. My Mom made a big move just for me, she moved to California to help me go to school. She moved to Long Beach so I would have a place to stay so I would not have to be going back to LA from Long Beach every day.
My Mom played a big role in helping me. I was never a good student in elementary or middle school. My Mom came out here and helped me in high school. Got my SAT scores up to 1280, got me tutoring, got all that done for me.
I really appreciate that - for my mother to leave another state and come out here just to help me. That was really big. My parents weren't together. They divorced when I was about 9, or something like that (but) I had the best of both parents. Both of my parents took care of me good. They loved me, but my Dad was the one who mostly took me to the sporting events, and Mom was taking care of the academics and grades. My Mom didn't let me play no sports unless I took care of my school.
The Bear Insider recently interviewed coach Alonzo Carter of McClymonds High School in Oakland who preaches to his players the importance of mastering their academics, because that can get them a scholarship to a good school where their athletic careers can really blossom."
Yes, definitely. You can't really start anywhere unless you have the grades, unless you have the SAT scores. No college will look at you if you are not prepared, if you are not (taking) the right units. It's big, coming out of high school; you have to be set in the right direction. If young high school students don't have a coach who is pushing them in the right direction, they get lost in the shuffle.
So, your mother watched pretty closely what you were doing in school?
She wanted to see everything. It would be days, Fridays, when I'd have a game, and she would call me at lunchtime to find out how I did on my morning test. If I didn't do good, she'd say, "Now, you can't play." It was hard to do, she had to go to the coach, and it was just her say-so going against the coaches.
And working hard at getting good grades in high school probably helped your first year at Cal.
It definitely helped me. Poly was a very good academic school - we had a lot of different programs. I was enrolled in a business program at Poly. Being able to go through those classes, they were tough classes. Nothing was ever handed to me. You hear about high school students just being given grades by teachers, coaches working things out for them. It was never like that for me. I always had to bust my butt off for everything I did, just like on the football field.
You received a lot of attention over your choice of college to attend - many Cal fans remember well the moment when you picked up that USC hat on television - and looked at it - then put on the Cal hat. How do you feel about that decision now that you can look back on it?
Looking back on it now, I feel it was a good decision, me choosing Cal, for numerous reasons. (I was both) staying close to home and at the same time being able to move away from my parents and being able to grow up in my own atmosphere - that's something I'm not used to.
Growing up in LA, I mean, I've seen a lot, from all the drugs, all the violence, just being in the streets of LA. Just to come out here and see a whole other atmosphere --- it's good to get away; it's good to see new things as you get older. You don't need to stay around the same kind of things like that ... I kind of think that was the biggest decision for me, moving away from home. I never did want to go to USC. All the Poly cats were always known for going to USC. And, another thing, USC was kind of cocky about getting me, they kind of "knew they had me" before I even said I was coming, and before I even committed.
Anything I did, they just assumed they had me. To me, that wasn't something I liked. It was kind of a secret to me for people to know what college I was going to. That was my treasure to me. Just the day before signing day, February 2, it was in the newspaper. "DeSean Jackson signs with USC".
Somebody called me telling me that, and I said, "No, I can't go to SC, they think they've already got me and that's not right."
So this was part of establishing your independence, establishing yourself in the world?
Yeah, it's one of those things. You don't want anybody to know your next move. I was kind of like, "they don't know me, man". If it was true, if I had committed, it would have been a different story. I didn't say nothin', they just put it in the newspaper.
You spend a lot of time on the football field here, in the locker room, the weight room, the mess hall - and on campus and in classes. Have you had any time to get out and see what the rest of the Bay Area is like?
Not too much time to get around and enjoy life like I would like to. Being in college, you have to kind of expect that. My time is not free; we're here for a reason. Hopefully, when college is done I'll be able to look around and see things I've never seen. As of right now, I just focus on what I have in front of me, which is school and football.
What I do in my free time, I see a little of the area here and there, but not too much, because I'm busy. I just keep grinding this out, hopefully, you know, soon I'll be able to go anywhere, take all the trips, go to the Bahamas or wherever.
It seems to me that a lot of Cal students out there would benefit from having a sport like football because it makes you stay so focused.
Definitely. There's a lot of people that love this game, and they are not able to get an opportunity to play, because maybe they aren't athletic enough, aren't tall enough, aren't smart enough. I'm just blessed to be in the shoes that I'm in.
Whatever I have to do to be successful, whether it's working hard, if it's doing ANYTHING, whatever sacrifice I have to make to be playing this game, to keep in the situation I'm in, I will do it. I would not change it for anything, because it's something I love, and I want to do it for the rest of my life.
|Coach Ferrigno, wide receiver coach for the Cal Bears, says
that Jackson is a very good all around athlete, with great explosion and
speed, goes to the ball very well, and has good hands.
Asked about Jackson's attitudes, Ferrigno said, "I haven't
really noticed a bad attitude at all - he can be a bit cocky - but
he's very coachable. Yes, he's very sure of his abilities,
but I want a guy like that, I don't want him doubting his abilities."
When shown the photo used as the cover on this magazine, Ferrigno said, "Yes, he made a good catch on that ball. The ball was just a little to the outside, like it's supposed to be, and he kept it in his view - he made a great pat-and-go on that play - it's something that we practice every day.
We are looking now at a photograph that shows you catching a touchdown pass. Do you remember that play?
It was against Minnesota. What was the play call?
It was a deep play-action pass. We tried to draw some people up into the box to get them to focus on Marshawn (Lynch). We got a couple of the safeties biting on that, and got a corner to bite on it, too. We got over the top on them, and I made a nice catch over the shoulder. It's one of the catches that Nate (Longshore) and I practice every day before practice.
That particular kind of catch?
Yes, a pat and go. We line up over here and just run it straight up and down the field.
Did you say a "pat and go"?
Yeah, a pat and go. It's just something we work on every day five minutes before practice - with the quarterback putting it over my outside shoulder where you can catch it up high. If you catch it over your shoulder, there's no possible way a defender can come through you unless you deflect the ball.
And that's exactly what's happening in the photograph.
What does that feel like at that moment, with the ball coming down, and you know you've got it. We'll ask our readers to look at the cover photo while you describe what it's like actually being there.
It's a great feeling, man, just to know there's eleven dudes on the opposite team trying to stop you and trying to keep you from getting into the end zone. When you get past those eleven dudes, and the ball's already thrown past them - you know, it's a good feeling going into the end zone, knowing you've beat everybody for a touchdown. It's just a real good feeling. Basically, it just sounds like nothing, and once you catch the ball the crowd gets really loud. It's something -- you don't really realize it when you're in the game, but you can hear it then. It's a really good feeling, man.
60,000 people are very happy at that moment.
Definitely - they all cheer, they all applaud what you just did.
The gloves you are wearing in the photo - do you always wear them? Are they important in catching passes and getting a grip on the ball?
Definitely. I've used gloves since I first arrived here at Cal. These are the new 2006 gloves, they are really tight on my hand. In the picture, you can see I don't have them strapped up, so you know they are already tight. In the game, I don't strap them up. They are medium-size, they are very good, they really help with the grip.
Did you use them in high school? No, I used a lot of different gloves then, but here in Division 1, when you are sponsored by Nike, there's only certain gloves you're allowed to wear. I just use the one pair of gloves I like. I try to get a new pair of them every week.
Your hands are critical to making a catch. Do you think about that? Are there any exercises you do, or have you always had great hands?
Definitely, in the weight room, with the strength coach, Coach K (John Krasinski) - he has us in there "on the rice." He has a big old bucket of rice - it's about 4 or 5 inches deep, you dig in there and turn and grab. It strengthens up your forearms and all the muscles in your hands. It's something I've worked on since I got here - it helps with blocking, and it helps get off the line of scrimmage, when I have to fight with the defensive back, using my hands.
It's a big thing to have strong hands. In high school, I worked on them a little bit, squeezing those handspring things - anything I could do to get ahead a little bit, I'm always willing to do it. If there's a couple of ways to get stronger, that's what I'm going to do.
One last question. DeSean. Do you think you were, in some way, born to this? Or is it more something you saw, and thought about, and then decided to do?
I kind of think it's meant for me to be playing football and it's meant for me to be the type of athlete I am. Because it's in my nature, just to be around the game - in some kind of way, just watching a team play or something.
In my case, it was watching my brother play. Football is something I was attracted to as a youngster. It just seemed like ever since I was young, it was meant for me. I love it like no other sport. I played baseball, also - but baseball, I don't have the love for that like I do the game of football.
I hope that I can take it as far as I can go.
We're sure you will, DeSean. Thank you for spending this time with us - we wish you all the best in your academics and in your football career at Cal and beyond.
©Copyright 2006, BearInsider.com and Scout.com. All rights reserved.
If you haven't done so already, subscribe to The Bear Insider so you can participate in this active online Cal community and get access to the members-only content from the nation-wide Scout.com network.
Bear Insider staff writers visit the Insider discussion board regularly, and are available to discuss questions you may have about this article and Cal Athletics.