Edwin Jackson was an underdog with the heart of a champion.
Even when things didn’t go quite as planned, he would dig in and turn the situation around in his favor.
That’s how family and friends remember Jackson, a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts and Atlanta native, who died Feb. 4 in an auto accident in Indianapolis.
He was 26.
Adam Jackson, an older brother, said Edwin Jackson “was a natural in everything he played. I was never surprised. Even as a little kid, I saw greatness. He always had that fire, that hunger to win.”
Edwin Jackson was a former walk-on at Georgia Southern University, where he moved up the team’s depth chart to become the starting linebacker his last two years and led the Eagles in tackles, according to the Edwin Jackson 53 Foundation website.
After college, Jackson accepted a free-agent offer with the Arizona Cardinals, and then signed a deal with the Indianapolis Colts. He started for the Colts in 2016.
Visitation will be from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday at Big Bethel AME Church, 220 Auburn Ave.
Edwin Jackson’s funeral will be at 11 a.m. Monday at the church.
Although Adam Jackson was 10 years older, he always considered Edwin Jackson his best friend.
“He was very spiritual and believed in positive thinking,” said Adam Jackson. “That’s what got him so far. That and plannning. Each year he would go to the coach with a sheet of paper with his goals. ‘I’m going to get this many tackles. I’m going to earn a scholarship. We’re going to win the conference.’
“Edwin always knew he was good too, but he may have been overlooked. A lot of kids are sometimes overlooked but they just need to be motivated and motivation kept him going.”
Just ask Answa Merine, the former Westlake High wrestling coach.
Merine wasn’t sure how well Jackson would do on the mat because other wrestlers had much more experience in the sport.
Edwin Jackson, however, quickly put such concerns to rest. What he initially lacked in skill, he more than made up in tenacity.
“He was a good wrestler, not a great wrestler, but he did have an unrelenting will, which allowed him to defeat wrestlers who have probably been in the sport since they were young,” Merine said.
Edwin Jackson just wouldn’t give up. Merine pushed him. Hard.
Before practice, Merine would order Jackson to run two miles, do 1,000 pushups and 500 situps. He would do them in 45 minutes without one complaint. “He would laugh and say, ‘Coach, you’re tripping. You’re trying to kill us,’ but at the end of the day he would just do it.”
One year, Edwin Jackson won a statewide wrestling competition. “He just came out of nowhere.”
He’s not surprised that he landed in the NFL. “He never gave up. He never doubted himself. All you needed to do was give him an opportunity.”
At Georgia Southern he became friends with wide receiver Ryan Longoria.
Longoria, of Hacienda Heights, Calif., remembers when he paid an official visit to the university. He didn’t meet Edwin Jackson then but was surprised when later he received a Facebook message.
Edwin Jackson told Longoria that he was excited he was joining the team and to reach out if he had any questions.
“That showed what kind of person he was - friendly, open arms, pretty much,” said an emotional Longoria.
“He had that kind of energy about him,” said Longoria. “Everyone wanted to be around him. He was always the life of the party. The minute you met him, you just knew this was a good guy.”
Adam Jackson said there was more to his brother, who majored in business administration and minored in Spanish, than sports.
“He loved to salsa,” said Adam Jackson. “He could tear a floor up.” His brother - roughly 6 feet tall and about 225 pounds - stood out. “You couldn’t hide him,” Adam Jackson said. “His style and everything was different. He loved to be different. He was his own person.”
Edwin Jackson had recently sent his brother an old video of him at a college party. Everyone was dressed in shorts and T-shirts. Edwin Jackson was in a tuxedo. “He was having a blast.” He loved people and loved bringing a smile to people’s faces.”
It was also important to his brother that he give back to the community.
One Christmas, during a college break, Edwin Jackson and a classmate traveled to Costa Rica, where they held a football clinic for local youth. He also volunteered with the Special Olympics.
After he moved into the NFL, Jackson formed the Edwin Jackson 53 Foundation, a nonprofit that empowers non-scholarship athletes and youth.
Jackson is survived by his parents, Mary and Wesley Jackson; siblings Wesley Jackson III, William-Adam (Kandis) Jackson, Cora (Charles) Asiana, Mary (Courtney) Billingslea, M’Ellen Michelle Jackson, Victoria Jackson, Henry Jackson, Stephen Jackson and Celeste Jackson; a nephew Wesley Jackson IV: and his grandmother Ellen Powell.