Jackson joins NFL’s Detroit Lions

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University Justin Jackson shown here playing against Duke.

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University
Justin Jackson shown here playing against Duke.

City leaders: Signing validates Hamlet football league 

By Kevin Spradlin

HAMLET — Like proud fathers, Hamlet City Council members Jesse McQueen and Pat Preslar took advantage of their opportunity to speak inside council chambers Tuesday night to congratulate, in absentia, Hamlet resident Justin Jackson.

Jackson, 22, signed a free agent contract on Monday with the National Football League’s Detroit Lions. The former linebacker for Richmond Senior High School (where he also started at fullback) and Wake Forest University has always had a bunch of local followers. Chances are his Facebook friend list will increase even faster now.

Jackson becomes at least the 13th player from Richmond County to sign an NFL contract, following the recent footsteps of Dannell Ellerbe and Melvin Ingram.

“That’s huge for this area,” said McQueen.

Preslar, an avid supporter of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department and its youth football program — the same one Jackson played in as a kid — took a moment to defend what he considers unfair criticism. In a recent public meeting, Richmond Senior football coach Paul Hoggard and Principal Keith McKenzie approached the Richmond County commissioners seeking support, and $50,000, for a countywide youth football program. It was later indicated that Hoggard and McKenzie didn’t request that money from the commissioners but used the meeting instead as a forum to garner support from potential private donors.

People like Preslar and parks and rec director Mitch Bowman said Richmond County already has a countywide youth program — and it’s been in Hamlet for years.

Justin Jackson

Justin Jackson

“I just don’t think we’re getting a fair shake,” Preslar said of comments Hoggard made about the Hamlet youth football season starting too late in the year, forcing athletes to play in sometimes cold, inclement wintry weather.

Preslar said the season starts as late as it does for the simple fact that coaches and parents want kids to have the opportunity finish the soccer season. Preslar said there’s plenty of evidence to support his request to the city of Rockingham and Richmond County governments for funding for the Hamlet league, as it accepts players from across the county. Those requests were denied, Preslar said.

“Over half of our players are from Hamlet,” Preslar said, noting the rest are “from everywhere else. I thought it was fair and equitable to ask. Now for them to come up and want $50,000 … I just don’t think that’s fair. I can hope we can maintain what we’ve got (but) if $50,000 goes to start a football program, we might go out of business.”

Still, there’s nothing like being a proud father when you’re the dad. Ask Arthur Jackson.

“It is an awesome accomplishment for Justin,” Jackson said. “I just look to see him do great things. He’s worked so hard to get to this point. He’s got suck a strong work ethic.”

it is an awesome accomplishemtn for justin. i just look to see for him to do great things. he’s worked so hard to get to this point. he’s got such a strong work ethic.

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University

Growing up

That would be bad news for players who want to follow in Jackson’s footsteps. His father, Arthur Jackson, said one of the most motivational coaches in his son’s young life was in the Hamlet league when he was 8 and played for the Cowboys. The father credits George Callahan, who was “one of Justin’s biggest impacts.”

Callahan, said the elder Jackson, “gave him the confidence he needed to play the game.”

At that age, said Arthur Jackson, his son stood out from among his peers not due to his apparent skill but hw was simply bigger than the other kids. It took a while longer — another eight years or so — before Jackson was convinced his son could play at at the next level.

“I knew he was good when he was little,” Jackson said. “He dominated all the other little kids. I just just that was because he was a little bit bigger and stronger. You don’t think that, hey, this kid’s gonna go pro, and when they didn’t catch up, I didn’t think that much about it.”

A defensive coordinator in high school who had experience on the collegiate level, Jackson said, turned the momentum. Jackson said the coach told him, “‘Mr. Jackson, your son is special” and will be playing in the NFL on Sundays.

“‘You’re worried about him making a college team on a scholarship? I see what your son can do at this time in his life. He can do something the college athletes … can’t.'”

Jackson said “that’s when it became real,” during his son’s junior season at Richmond Senior.

As a Raider (Class of 2009), Jackson earned Associated Press first-team all-state honors as a senior and named first team all-state by NCPreps.com. He was selected Mid-Southeastern Conference’s Defensive Play of the Year in 2008 and named to the Shrine Bowl of the Carolinas squad.

Jackson helped the Raiders win the Class 4AA state championship in 2008 with a 38-35 win over Fayetteville Jack Britt. The Raiders posted a 24-5-1 mark his final two high school seasons.

College life

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University

Photo courtesy Wake Forest University

Jackson decided to state in state and play football at Wake Forest University. He played in all 12 games each season as a sophomore, junior and senior, the latter standing 6-foot-1 and weighing 230 pounds.

As a senior in 2013, he started all 12 games and returned an interception 63 yards of r touchdown in the season finale against Vanderbilt. Jackson was sixth on the team with 56 total tackles, including 34 solo, and was third with 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. He led the Demon Deacons in interception return yards and posted a season-high 10 tackles against Syracuse while recording seven stops against both ULM and Florida State.

The draft

Arthur Jackson said the Lions showed interest in his son some two weeks before draft day, but things didn’t go exactly as planned.

As it happened, the NFL combine took place in Detroit this year. The Lions took their turn during team interviews with Jackson. They sold Jackson on how he’d be a good fit in the Lions’ 4-3 defensive scheme. Team officials projected Jackson to be picked in the draft between the fifth and seventh rounds.

That didn’t happen. Instead, 256 players were selected and Jackson was almost left out of the loop. But Lions representatives were on the phone with Jackson, assuring him they wanted him with the team. As the 256th pick was announced, Jackson said his son received a call from Lions reps asking if he’d sign a preferred free agent contract.

Jackson, with counsel from his father, said he’d consider it. While doing his research online to see how he’d fit with the Lions, the Jackson family fielded phone calls from other teams — the Steelers, Jets and Packers among them, the elder Jackson said. His son chose Detroit.

Jackson said his son realized the Lions were playing the 4-3, a scheme he played in high school and was recruited to play in college before a change in leadership at Wake Forest switched to a 3-4. For the Demon Deacons, Jackson said, “he did well, but said that wasn’t his strong suit.”

He signed the contract the same day and was told to be in Detroit the next for team workouts.

Jackson declined to disclose the terms of his son’s contract, but noted the NFL minimum is $425,000 a season. That doesn’t mean he’s rich — at least, not yet.

“He doesn’t get paid until the first game,” Jackson said of his son’s financial fortune.

Sports information leader ESPN predicts that Jackson has a 50 percent chance of breaking camp with the team.

“He was a fairly productive player in the ACC, but doesn’t have anything that truly stands out entering camp like some of the other free agents they are bringing in,” according to the ESPN breakdown “That said, he could end up as a practice squad candidate.”

But the ESPN prognosticators also said Jackson has an upside: versatility.

“He played both inside and outside linebacker at Wake Forest and Detroit — as mentioned in other profiles — is looking for versatility throughout its lineup. That appears to be a big focus with who the Lions have looked at with their undrafted free agent class and Jackson would fit that.”

While the younger Jackson is in Detroit working with his new team, dad is back home waiting for roster cuts, and hoping his son is on the favorable end. The Lions first preseason game is Aug. 9 against the Cleveland Browns. Opening day is Sept. 8 against the New York Giants.





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