I remember when I met Nebraska defensive end Damian Jackson. He was sitting with the freshman class during the Huskers’ annual Fan Day at the end of July. Except Jackson looked nothing like his classmates sitting next to him. And, rightfully so.
Jackson is 27-years-old, nearly 10 years senior those sitting next to him at Fan Day. He has a full face of facial hair and long hair, which he often pulls back in a ponytail. His appearance has even been likened to that of actor Jason Momoa.
Yet, Jackson is only a freshman on the Nebraska football team.
His story is a fascinating one. He’s been profiled by many, and it’s not hard to understand why. He’s a former Navy SEALs who has been deployed to Yemen and southeast Asia. He joined the Navy in 2010 after high school, attending boot camp before going through Basic Underwater Demolition school. Jackson returned home in 2016.
Beyond that, Jackson had never played a down of football in his life. He was a baseball guy, but wanted to take a shot at football. That’s what prompted him to try out for a spot on Nebraska’s football team.
So, how exactly did Jackson end up in Lincoln? He’s from Las Vegas, but had a loose tie to Nebraska through his mother’s employer. Gary Toogood, who played for the Huskers in the early 1960s, helped guide Jackson to Nebraska. As a result, he met coach Mike Riley on a visit he made to Lincoln two years ago. He was looking for what his life would be once his service ended, and Riley was the only coach to respond. In some ways, you could say the rest is history.
Jackson’s teammates have selected him as the one to carry the American flag out of the tunnel every home game. As a result, the player who never played a down of football in his life is one of the first to lead his team out on the field.
Hearing Riley speak about him now, it’s clear why his teammates made that decision.
“What a special person he is,” Riley said this week. “From the moment he started working out with our team, he set a high standard. Watching him work out is impressive. Watching him do what he does day-to-day is impressive. The discipline that he has in all the parts of being a teammate is impressive. I think it’s been good for our team to have him here.”
Yes, Jackson is good for this Nebraska team. He may have plenty left to learn, but there are high hopes for him in the future. Even Riley hopes he finds his niche on the team.
And I’ll never forget Fan Day his year and watching Jackson meet Nebraska fans. He was a 27-year old with an impressive amount of life experience under his belt. I’m not sure what I expected from the former Navy SEALs, but he smiled with so much joy as each Huskers fan passed by him.
It was an unconventional journey for Jackson to get to Nebraska, yet here he is. And the Huskers are arguably better for it.
The post On the Beat: Nebraska DE Damian Jackson’s unconventional journey to the Huskers appeared first on Land of 10.