Darius Jackson's post-high school plans were solid, respectable. The current Jacksonville State star wanted to work at U.S. Pipe in his hometown area of Bessemer, Ala., just as his grandfather did before him.
But his coaches at McAdory High School had a different plan. They thought he was good enough to get a college scholarship for football. We hear this story a lot with FCS talent, don't we?
So Jackson (6-foot-2, 237 pounds) listened, and now six years after making the decision to chase a college education — he will graduate next month — and Division I football, he is also projected as a day three NFL Draft pick by NFLDraftScout.
That attention will come when you shatter every school record for negative-yardage plays (currently 24.5 sacks, 55.5 tackles for loss in his career), though for the Gamecocks there's nothing negative about what Jackson brings to their stellar defense. He's one of the key reasons Jacksonville State looks like a high seed for the FCS Playoffs and hasn't lost a game in the Ohio Valley Conference his entire career.
"It was kind of crazy going into my 11th grade year," Jackson told HERO Sports this week, ahead of his team's game with Murray State. "I didn't get too many offers. Others were going to camps and stuff like that. My coaches asked me what I wanted to do after high school … and they told me 'we're going to get you a scholarship'."
Eventually, Jackson did have options. He looked Southern Miss-bound at one point, but a coaching change wrecked it — which happens. Several Ohio Valley Conference programs offered him a scholarship, along with the SWAC's Alabama State and Alabama A&M. The FBS' Middle Tennessee also offered, but in the end it was a visit to Jacksonville State that won him over. In his four years with the Gamecocks, he's gotten to play in an FCS national title game against North Dakota State, he's played against Auburn and LSU and he's played a part in 40 wins.
Not bad for a defensive lineman who entered college as a defensive back from McAdory High School (and yes, to answer your inevitable question: Darius is a distant relative of the legendary Bo Jackson, also of McAdory lore). Darius has grown into his frame since being an all-stater on a high school state runner-up team. That ability to play different positions is one of the big reasons he's trending upwards with pro scouts, who are beginning to show up at JSU more frequently. In fact, he's projected to play pro ball at outside linebacker more than defensive end.
"I got the pleasure of recruiting Darius," JSU head coach John Grass told HERO Sports. "He was one of the first players I recruited we first came in. He was a high school safety and we got him in and redshirted him and moved him up to linebacker, and then to the defensive end position. He just took off. He's just a phenomenal player and I think he has a real good chance to play at the next level."
JSU O-lineman Justin Lea — who has started every game of his four-year career and redshirted in 2013 like Jackson — agreed. Lea, like Jackson, will be in an NFL camp next year, it's just a matter of what avenue he travels to get there.
"He has something that I can't even begin to describe," Lea told HERO Sports. "The moves that he has and the way he plays, his ball 'get off' is unbelievable. Getting to go against those guys on defense during the week really gets us ready."
"One blocker ain't making it," Jackson said. "Every pass play they have to put the running back or tight end on me too, and it frees somebody else to make plays. That makes it better for my teammates to make plays. I like that … We like to apply pressure to the quarterback at all costs, and we'll get the interceptions and sacks because of it. That's what we do."
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