Memo to NFL: Whither Don Jackson? (Part I)

WAY BACK WHEN, I was optimistic <b>Donnie Jackson</b>'s stock would climb in the months leading up to the draft. He had just capped a superb season.. the NFL-types would surely notice. This buzz would grow, cresting in late April with his selection in the '04 draft. But then he didn't get invited to the NFL combine. As winter turned to spring with little fanfare, I came to grips with the idea he wouldn't hear his name called. I was prepared for this. I wasn't prepared for what followed.

The phenomenon is not exclusive to football. It happens in other sports as well. Pitcher A gets people out, has a solid ERA, owns a great strikeout-to-walks ratio. But he tops out at 87-mph on his fastball. Pitcher B has a higher ERA, less wins, less K's and twice the walks as Pitcher A.

But Pitcher B has a 98-mph heater. That one measurable trumps all else.

Pitcher B gets a huge signing bonus, goes in the first round. Pitcher A might get drafted in the 40th round, if at all. Never mind that Pitcher A is better.. Because Pitcher B has a big-time cannon. Oftentimes, he can't find the plate with a map and a pith helmet but hey, he can really wing the rock.

NFL general managers must subscribe to the same trade magazines. Apparently, they're unable to get past the fact Don Jackson doesn't fit their notion of a prototypical height/weight.

For what its worth, Donnie J stands just a shade under 6-foot and checks in at 225-230. And there are indeed not only linebackers in the NFL with similar measurements, there are middle ‘backers as well. Oh, these guys could always play. Yet, many of them were never drafted.

And if they were, they were selected long after the ‘prototypical' guys.. After the guys two inches taller and 20-pounds heavier.. After the players who will never reach the lofty expectations bestowed upon them.

These players, those without ‘prototypical' numbers mostly had to, and will continue to have to, take a circuitous route to The League. Never mind that they just.. make.. plays. Some lessons do not take..

Jackson himself took a circuitous route to becoming a Cougar.

He didn't even play football until his junior year at Natchez HS, he was more interested in basketball back then. He also competed in track and field, qualifying for States with a 6-4 in the high jump.

And just for fun, Jackson challenged for the high school state championship as a power lifter. At 181-pounds, he qualified with a 300-pound bench, a 450-pound squat and a 570-pound dead lift.

Jackson next spent a year at Mississippi's Copai-Lincoln JC, but to his chagrin, didn't see the field much. The following summer, he visited a friend attending Grossmont JUCO in San Diego–just to work out a bit, just to hang out with a buddy. The JC was conducting their summer workout program. Jackson joined in.. And the Grossmont coaches took notice.

At summer's end, the coaching staff asked him to attend school and play ball at Grossmont rather than return to Mississippi.

He was Grossmont's MVP on defense that year. In one game, he tallied 29 tackles.

2002.. His first year with the Cougs. A year he was saddled with injury much of the season, although he determinedly played through it. He came into the '03 Fall camp as one of three competing for the starting MLB spot. He won it hands down. He stayed healthy. And he put it all together in 2003. Simply put, he exploded.


Don Jackson (Getty)

Still, his selection was not forthcoming on Draft Day, (or, more accurately in this case, Daft Day.) Surely, some GM was hoping he'd snag a free-agent steal, it was simply a monetary thing in this era of caps & constraints. Why draft in the 5th round what you think you can get for a song? That had to be it.

It wasn't. As May approaches its midway point, Don Jackson, unbelievably, has yet to be signed by an NFL club as a free agent. Flummoxed, I hunkered down to reevaluate.

Settling in with my Montlake brand aerosol cheese and some focus pork rinds, I threw in some tape. Because maybe these NFL guys know what they're doing, for crying out loud. Maybe I'm just out to lunch on this one. Maybe I'm just too biased. Sure enough, my suspicions were indeed confirmed.

Every NFL general manager is an incompetent jackass.

Its not because Don Jackson led a great Cougar defense with 101 tackles, (51 solo), in ‘03. Its not because he made a few great plays, or had a couple great games. No. It is so much more than that.

Donnie Jackson could play in the pros. Donnie Jackson should play in the pros.

Don Jackson is moving towards the line. The Colorado QB is looking to mount a drive, trying to get his Buffaloes back in the game. Donnie J splits the gap and before the quarterback can set up, he levels him. Man is separated from football.

The QB trots awkwardly to the sideline. He will not return. Indeed, he will miss the next eight quarters of Colorado football. The Cougars score a touchdown on the very next play. And for all its violence, the hit was, surprisingly, not a straight-on shot. It could have been worse. Collisions, straight-on or not, involving Donnie Jackson are like this.. Devastating.


Click here for Part II


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