“I was just shocked,” she said. “I had no idea.”
With execution that any coach would appreciate – multiple Tech staffers helped pull off the surprise, and Jackson’s teammates and family kept the secret during the week – Jackson has a fiancée and the rare marriage proposal to draw the attention of ESPN SportsCenter.
“I don’t think I could ever experience that feeling again,” Jackson said. “It was a feeling that, all I felt was just affection, love, passion for what I was doing, the person I was doing it for. To be able to ask your best friend to be your wife is truly a blessing. It really is.”
BeforeSaturday, Jackson was anonymous to all but the most ardent Tech fan, but he is the sort of player that every team needs. An early enrollee in January 2014 from Lowndes County High, Jackson has largely been a special-teams player, a role he has embraced.
“He’s played mostly on special teams since he’s been here, but he’s a hard worker, never been a problem of any kind, does well in school and he’s a good team player,” coach Paul Johnson said. “I think he’s well-respected by his team and a fun guy to be around.”
Jackson is on track to graduate in December with a management degree. With a season of eligibility remaining, he wants to earn a master’s in the school of building construction. Jackson has distinguished himself among teammates with his dedication to financial health. Jackson said they joke with him that there is “bad credit, good credit and Tré Jackson credit.”
This summer, on top of daily workouts in the morning, Jackson interned with Lexicon Technologies, a technology support company in Conyers, then returned to Atlanta and worked part-time as a bouncer at a bar in Buckhead. He sometimes got home at 2 or 2:30 a.m. and then was back up for the 6 a.m. workouts. His motivation was to pay off his truck – a used 2010 Ford F-150 – and to save money for a ring.
Jackson and Nathe had known each other since July 2015, when Jackson and teammates made a road trip to Orlando for the Fourth of July weekend and met Nathe, who was with her own group of friends. The two had previously connected on Instagram – they had a mutual friend in A-back Clinton Lynch – but the meeting sparked an on-again, off-again relationship.
Jackson was drawn to Nathe’s kindness and devotion to her family and faith. That she’s a country girl who likes to shoot guns and ride trucks and lives on a farm with eight cattle (including her own Texas Longhorn, Buster) scored points, too.
They began officially dating, Jackson said, in January of this year.
In August, Jackson picked out a ring with the help of his grandmother, Patsi Peacock. He asked Nathe’s parents Toni and Aaron Watkins – they’re her adoptive parents and she calls them her grandparents – for their blessing. And then the plan went into action, with the blessing and assistance of Johnson, player personnel director Andy Lutz and assistant athletic director Simit Shah.
Wanting to have Nathe, her parents and several of his own family members together, he had to wait until the Virginia Tech game. While Nathe often drives up for home games, Jackson invited Nathe’s parents on the pretext that it was “grandparents game.”
Then, Nathe and her parents and Peacock (who had the ring) and her boyfriend had to be brought down to the field. A Tech staffer approached them with a story about how they had won a fan-of-the-game contest and were invited to come down to the field.
Nathe’s mother said she had an inkling of what was up, but Nathe, while finding it weird, said she didn’t suspect anything. She and Jackson had talked about marriage, but she thought it was four or five years down the road.
They watched the rest of the game from behind the Tech sideline, as butterflies fluttered in Jackson’s stomach while the score changed hands and the outcome wasn’t determined until the Hokies’ final possession.
Jackson was going to propose on the field only if the Jackets won. Had they lost, he would have done it on Callaway Plaza outside the stadium. But his heart was set, obviously, on Plan A.
After the Jackets secured their 28-22 upset win, Nathe and her fellow fans of the day were ushered toward the portal nearest the Tech locker room. Jackson tapped Nathe on the shoulder and asked to look at the video board at the opposite end of the field, which read, “Desiree’, will you marry me?”
She turned back to Jackson, who was on bended knee. Surrounding the two, Jackson’s teammates chanted “Yes! Yes! Yes!”
“I was still in shock,” Nathe said. “It took me a minute before I said anything.”
The plan is for a wedding in March 2019 in Dade City, which will give Jackson time to graduate with his master’s. Nathe, who works as a pharmacy tech in Dade City, plans to move to Atlanta in January and earn certification to do similar work in a hospital.
If Jackson has any bigger surprises in mind for the wedding, at least he’s got time to plan. It will be hard to top Saturday.
“It felt literally like a dream,” he said. “It felt like I was dreaming, and I couldn’t have dreamed it up any better.”