'Canes Alumni Interview - James Jackson Pt. 1

Every offseason, CanesTime.com interviews former Hurricane greats, and this season is no exception. James Jackson joined Raul Tano for this exclusive one on one interview you won't want to miss. In part I of the interview, Jackson talks about growing up in Belle Glade, his recruitment for the 'Canes, and how the recruiting game has changed since he was in high school.

CT - Let's just take it from the beginning. I recall you saying that you grew up a ‘Canes fan but that you were one of the only kids in your neighborhood who liked them because most kids from the Muck were Gators during that time.

JJ – Pretty much man, you know the way my dad raised me was that you would support the teams that were closest to you. That pretty much concerned any team in Miami as far as we were concerned. Miami Dolphins, the Hurricanes obviously, and at the time the Heat hadn't been in existence, but when they did, I became a Heat fan, so I've always been a homer. Always.

CT – Did it help that the Hurricanes were so dominant while you were growing up?

JJ – You know what, honestly, I watched football but I didn't watch with the passion and the attention that I watch it with now. What really helped was the fact that my father was such a big fan. I really can't say that because they were winning so much during the 80s was the reason that swayed me to go to the school. What swayed me to go to the school was just the fact that my father was such a big Hurricanes fan and I think it just started from there. I've always played football. I remember when I was maybe 10 or 11 years old in the neighborhood that I grew up in and we had something called the "big field". The field was huge, you have to understand I lived in a very rural area, I was in the Much. We'd play football out there and in order to score a touchdown on that field it'd take you a good minute to run the whole field. I mean, it was a huge field. Most of the guys that I played with were bigger guys. I wasn't muscular back in those days. I was the chubby kid but I was always fast. The older kids didn't mind me playing with them because I didn't mind getting tackled by 18-20 year olds. That's how I grew up. That's what made me enjoy football the way I did. By the time I got to 14 or 15, I didn't want to play street ball anymore because I felt that I was a little bit too advanced for that field. I grew up loving football. That was something that no one had to instill in me. I grew up knowing that that's what I wanted to do.

CT – The Muck has recently received a lot more press as a recruiting hotbed, getting national exposure even. What was it like growing up in that kind of area with that kind of talent? Did you realize it at the time or was it just sort of status quo?

JJ – Honestly, we didn't realize it at the time, we just kind of looked up to the guys who played there before us. We looked up to those guys because they were winning, but I don't think they had won any state titles or anything but we looked up to them because we looked at them as what we wanted to be when we got to high school. You have to understand I went to high school with Fred Taylor, Reidel Anthony, we were all on the same team. The team I played for, my senior team, after Reidel and Fred left, 7 guys on my team went on to sign Division 1 football scholarships. We knew we had a good team, we knew we had a group of guys that could play well together, I don't think we realized how good we were at the time but we were pretty aware that we had something . Guys that we idolized were Louis Oliver, Jesse Hester, Ricky Jackson, those were the guys we looked up to. Honestly, I think we set precedent for everything. Nowadays the kids know all of our names. I go back to the city and the high school and they know me because they grew up watching us like we grew up watching the guys before us.

CT – Everyone knows you guys, but with the fact that recruiting in general and media coverage in general has become so much more intense recently, I get the feeling that the kids in South Florida all know and have an idea about the success they can have. If nothing else, they know just because they see the kind of success guys like you and others have had, but also because of the press attention their teammates receive when they are being recruited. It's almost like 16-18 year olds become superstars. Does that change the dynamic of being a high school kid?

JJ – Oh absolutely. We set the foundation. Now kids know. When we were coming along, we didn't really have a barometer. Now kids have someone to look at. They say, "ok, this guy was recruited this way, he played for this particular university, and this university is recruiting me now," so that must mean I'm playing well. When I was around we didn't have that. We knew we were good players but we didn't know to what extent we were good. These kids can all look at us now and say "ok, he went to the NFL, and I'm getting the same offers he's getting so I must be doing pretty good for myself". We didn't have that gauge to judge ourselves off of. That definitely plays a big part in how things are going on. Another thing is the kids nowadays…when I go back, I think we played football because we loved football. We didn't play necessarily because we wanted the fame around town or anything. Back then we didn't really get the fame around town as much. Nowadays it's different. When I go back now, the high school kids around town now get as much attention as we do, and I think that kind of takes away from the love of the game as opposed to getting to college before you sign your first autograph. I didn't sign my first autograph until I got to college. I didn't sign any autographs in high school. When I went to camp, the first camp I went to was the Georgia camp and I didn't sign any autographs there. I remember I went in to that camp…I went to one camp with Randy Moss. I'm pretty sure I went to a camp with Chad Johnson, but I didn't know who he was. I went to a camp with Autry Denson. I went to camp with a couple other people and it was just fun for me to get away from my area and get to play with some guys who I had never had the chance to play with before. Nowadays, kids can go watch kids from Minnesota play if they want to just with the click of a button. The only thing I could do back then was look at stats.

CT – You mentioned judging how good you were by the offers you got. You already said you grew up a ‘Canes fan. Was there ever even a question for you about where you wanted to go to school? We all remember you committed to Notre Dame before Miami.

JJ – There was never a doubt for me that I wanted to be a Hurricane because that's who I grew up rooting for. The reason why I committed to Notre Dame was that I didn't think at the time that I could get into UM. What Notre Dame was offering me at the time was an opportunity to Prop 8. The last person they did that to was Tony Rice, their old quarterback. They were offering me a chance to Prop 8, which would have allowed me to get into school and play ball. That was part of the reason why I initially gave Notre Dame my oral commitment. It wasn't because I wanted to go.

CT – At what point did you realize that Miami might be pursuing you?

JJ – Butch Davis came to my house, him and Pete Garcia and we were talking and talking and they really didn't have to do a lot to convince me, I just wanted to know that they were interested in me on coming there and they were serious about me coming to play, and after that me and my dad basically sat down and we were like "ok, I know you don't want to go to a military academy, but would you rather go to a school that you don't really want to play for and not enjoy it or would you rather go to the University of Miami where you may have to wait a year but it'd be worth it." That's when I decided I'd rather wait a year. I had to wait a year because of academics. My GPA was fine, but I had to get a test score. I think I scored a 17 the first time around so I had to go to Fork Union Military Academy for a year and I came back to UM after that.

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