Top tackle prospect Austin Jackson helped sister with bone marrow transplant

Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, left, is blocked by Southern California offensive tackle Austin Jackson (73) during the first half of the Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Orlando Ramirez)
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Iowa defensive end A.J. Epenesa, left, is blocked by Southern California offensive tackle Austin Jackson (73) during the first half of the Holiday Bowl NCAA college football game Friday, Dec. 27, 2019, in San Diego. (AP Photo/Orlando Ramirez)

Here’s the fifth story of our position-by-position 2020 NFL draft series. Today we’ll look at the top offensive tackles.  

Austin Jackson just wanted the pain to stop for his younger sister Autumn.

She’d undergo blood transfusions regularly for five years in order to battle against Diamond Blackfan Anemia (DBA), a rare blood disorder that doesn’t allow the body to produce red blood cells.

Jackson, who played at USC and is one of the top tackles in the NFL draft, was a bone marrow match for Autumn and became her donor.

“She's had it since she was born,” Jackson said. “The procedure I did, the bone marrow transplant, allows her body to accept my blood cells. Thank god we were a perfect match through blood testing. That allowed her to fully restart her system and her body is now producing red blood cells.”

Jackson, who was highly recruited out of high school, made the donation in 2019.

“It was a long process,” Jackson said. “I had to take the whole offseason to go home and be with her and train on my own. I couldn't afford to get sick. Otherwise the procedure would have been prolonged. I battled back through fall camp and through the season to gain my strength back.”

Autumn Jackson has improved.

“She's doing great,” Jackson said. “She's making a full recovery. No symptoms. She had to undergo chemo and her hair's growing back. Doctors say her blood is producing at levels they've never seen. It's great.”

It was difficult for Jackson to watch his younger sibling struggle through the transfusions.

“It's very tough,” Jackson said. “Every three weeks she (would) undergo a blood transfusion, and there's issues that can arise with getting maybe the wrong blood. You never know. There's been some issues when she's gotten the wrong blood, her body rejects the blood, and she's had to go to the hospital.”

Jackson was considered to have a 25% chance of being a match.

“There were a lot of emotions,” Jackson said. “I was happy. I was excited. But most importantly I just thanked God. It was a miracle and I was glad I could do that for my family.”

Jackson is considered one of the top 10 tackles in the NFL draft and is projected to go in the second round. The draft is set to be held April 23-25.

“I come from a family of football players,” Jackson said. “My grandfather (Melvin Jackson) played in the NFL.”

He grandfather played for the Green Bay Packers from 1976-80 and was a starting guard.

“There's some technique stuff he's showed me, but football in the '70s is a lot different than football now,” Jackson said. “But the biggest thing he's taught me is show up every day, work hard, and make the most for yourself.”

Other top tackles in the draft include, Alabama’s Jedrick Wills, Iowa’s Tristan Wirfs, Georgia’s Andrew Thomas and Isaiah Wilson and Louisville’s Mekhi Becton.

“Thomas is the fourth offensive tackle with most of the people that you speak with,” ESPN analyst Mel Kiper said. “But if you need a left tackle, he’s the second best left tackle.”

Kiper believes the reliance on film with the lack of pro day workouts and individual workouts because of the coronavirus pandemic may help Thomas.

“I think Andrew Thomas is a guy that people are going back to the tape and they like what they see,” Kiper said. “You go back and you watch him, he plays a little high. He obviously needs to get some technique work in the NFL, but he’s a good football player.”

Thomas, who played at Pace Academy, made 33 starts for the Bulldogs.

“He keeps his (body) between the defensive end and the quarterback on a consistent basis,” Kiper said. “He slides. He has good feet. He has some power in terms of the run blocking.

“When people go back and evaluate him, that’s what they are doing now because there (are) no pro days, when you go back to film evaluation, how guys actually played, that is going to be a very important this year. I think for Andrew Thomas this helps him.”

Kiper has projected Thomas to Tampa Bay at the 14th overall pick or Miami at 18 overall at the latest.

Most have Wills being the first tackle selected.

“He can really move,” NFL Network draft analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. “He's really good working up to the second level. Showed some of his athleticism there. A natural knee bender. Good in pass protection. He doesn't really get beat when you study Alabama.”

Houston’s Josh Jones has been a fast climber through the mostly virtual pre-draft process.

“I know there's a lot of people that really like Josh Jones from Houston,” Jeremiah said. “I think Austin Jackson will go ahead of him. I think he's a better player.”

Jackson is also just 20 and his a higher ceiling.

“He's going to get better,” Jeremiah said. “He donated his bone marrow to his sister over the offseason. So he lost an offseason. But that obviously speaks to the kind of brother he is and his character.”

AJC’s 2020 POSITION BY POSITION DRAFT SERIES

Quarterbacks: Joe Burrow leads classTop 10 QBs
Running backs: Cam Akers' life lessonTop 10 RBs
Part 3: Harrison Bryant top prospect Top 10 
Part 4: Solomon Kindley a late-rounderTop 10 

Part 5: Austin Jackson 's life lesson  | Top 10 
Part 6: Wide receivers
Part 7: Defensive tackle
Part 8: Defensive end
Part 9: Linebackers
Part 10: Safeties
Part 11: Special Teams
Part 12: Cornerbacks

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