Jay Hackett, back in San Diego

Who do you know that has left California for the greener pastures of Montana? When that home is San Diego it makes it even more puzzling. Paradise is a tough place to leave. Yet Jay Hackett left the sunny confines to play cornerback for Montana State. And now he returns home with a chance to make the San Diego Chargers.

Despite growing up in San Diego, Jay Hackett admits reluctantly that he was not a Chargers fan. But not to worry, he does not profess his love for the Evil Empire either. He admits the players he watched defined the game with the impact they made on and off the field.

One such player is former Chargers defensive lineman Leslie O'Neal. Similar to a schoolteacher that has made a lasting impression, O'Neal was that for Hackett.

"I never really had a team," Hackett said. "I always had favorite players and things like that. I wouldn't say I was a Chargers fan. Leslie O'Neal did a program at my school and I really respected him for that."

Little is told about the community service each player performs, but they oftentimes spend Tuesday of each week volunteering their time at local hospitals and schools. Hackett viewed the time he took out of his schedule to visit him as a blessing and a sign of how he wanted to live his life.

Now he is back home, but for a family that is military based, his dad is a Master Sergeant in the U.S. Marines, home is where you make it.

Plus this is a different environment entirely. The home cooked meals he is used to will be replaced by learning the playbook and working out. There is little time to go hang out. The only friends the cornerback can afford to have are fellow teammates.

"It was a blessing (to come home), but it wasn't necessarily an important factor," Hackett revealed. "I feel like no matter where I went I would have to go out there and work hard and try and make a team."

Hackett has faced the uncertainty all his life. With his dad, Charles, stationed near Palm Springs, he never knew when he would see him. Master Sergeant Hackett could have been commissioned to Iraq or anywhere at the drop of a hat in an effort to fight for this country.

But Hackett is thankful and proud of his father's accomplishments. Hearing the reverence in his voice, it is tough to figure out who is the father and who is the son.

"He is back in San Diego," Hackett says with a hint of relief. "I am so proud of him. Every time that I play a game, he tells me how proud he is of me, but I am so proud of him. He came to every single one of my games for four years. With going to Iraq, he still made it back to see all my games. My freshman year and he even came to a few of my games my redshirt year.

"I am so proud of him just for being there for me. It meant a lot every time before a game and at halftime or any time I had the chance I looked up into the stands and it just made me proud every time."

And the idea is to pay him back by making an NFL team.

An animated Hackett responds, "Oh yeah!"

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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