CRAWFORD | Louisville's Jackson on not skipping bowl: I owe it to teammates
Unlike other top players, Lamar Jackson said he had no hesitation about playing in a bowl game. He explains why on the eve of Louisville's game against Mississippi State in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (WDRB) – There are certain rules of engagement for sports writing. One of the newest I’ve encountered is this: You can never write enough about Lamar Jackson.
So here’s another Lamar Jackson column. It’s not the Jackson column I expected to be writing when the month began. To be honest, I thought I’d be writing a story today about how the University of Louisville football team would be preparing for its first game of the post-Jackson era when it faces Mississippi State on Saturday in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
It’s 2017, in the age of the College Football Playoff. If you’re a player with legitimate draft hopes in a high-profile situation, chances are you give serious thought to skipping a non-playoff bowl game.
In fact, that was the case for Louisville cornerback Jaire Alexander and defensive end James Hearns. LSU’s Leonard Fournette and Stanford Christian McCaffrey made that decision last season. Two players from the University of Texas took a pass on the Longhorns’ bowl game, as did Florida State safety Derwin James.
For Jackson, however, it’s game on. And that makes him a bit of a curiosity in itself. The first time Jackson met the media to answer questions this week, he was asked what made him come back when so many are starting to decide to skip bowl games.
Jackson noted that he hasn’t officially decided to skip his senior season. He said he’ll still sit down with his family and make a decision on that soon. But the bigger reason, he said, was his teammates, and his answer gives a view into not just the kind of player he is, but the kind of person.
“The reason I chose to play in it is because my teammates sat out throughout the year, you know, they had injuries, but came back into games to try to help us come out with victories in big games,” Jackson said. “They didn’t have to. I just felt I owed that to them.”
It’s not the first time Jackson has been in this situation. He had finished his high school career at Boynton Beach High School. Everybody told him he didn’t need to play in a couple of high school all-star games they hold in Florida, including the Florida Athletic Coaches Association North-South game.
Why risk it? He had a scholarship from Louisville in hand. Just sit back and play it safe.
Jackson risked it. He’s a football player. He’s invited to a game. He’s going to play. And he’s going to try to win.
I know that’s not how things are done in 2017. But it’s how Lamar Jackson does things. And there’s something in it that you have to appreciate.
Frankly, it’s one of the things that will leave many of us holding our breath when Jackson takes the field Saturday.
But that’s not part of his thinking.
For all the detractors Jackson had after the way last season ended, he came back as a junior and was a better player, put up the same or better numbers even though every defense he faced was geared toward stopping him, and only him, in some cases.
“A lot of teams have tried to stop him,” Mississippi State interim coach Greg Knox. “I don’t know if you slow him down, you just try to hope to contain him. He’s going to get his yards. It’s like playing Michael Jordan. He was going to get his points every night. You just hope to contain him and not let him get out of control. Limit big plays. But he’s a special player, and I was talking about this a while back -- Mississippi State has had the opportunity to face three Heisman Trophy winners, Ricky Williams, Tim Tebow, Johnny Manziel. And those guys are special, and Lamar is very special.”
On he rolled. He became the first player in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be voted player of the year in back-to-back seasons. He had 12 games this season with better than 300 yards of total offense. He ran for 100 yards or more in nine games.
Jackson made college football history this past season, becoming the only player in FBS history to post back-to-back seasons of 3,000 yards passing and 1,000 yards rushing.
“He’s had a great season,” Petrino said. “The way he’s played the game. The way he prepares for the game. The one thing Lamar does is come to practice with a smile on his face and a great attitude. And he really works as hard as he possibly can on getting better every day. He’s one of the most coachable young men I’ve had the pleasure to coach. He’s always wanting to work on something. He’s a great listening. He really strives for excellence in practice, and that carries over to other players on our team. They see, here’s a young man who won the Heisman Trophy and is the best player in the United States, and he comes to practice and works as hard as you possibly can.”
One day in practice this week, Petrino said Jackson was finishing a play, and he was half-smiling when he yelled out to him, “Come on, sprint! Go full speed.”
He said Jackson turned to him and had a big smile. “He knew I was kidding around with him. Because he was going as fast as you could go.”
That, it turns out, is the only speed Jackson knows.
Don’t expect him to slow down now.
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