Rams’ DeSean Jackson changes the game

THOUSAND OAKS (News4usonline) – Hall of Fame running back Gale Sayers once said, “Give me 18 inches of daylight. That’s all I need.” The legendary Sayers established himself as one of the greatest running backs ever to play in the NFL.

Sayers was famous for turning nothing into something spectacular. That’s kind of like what Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson has done during his illustrious career. The South Los Angeles native has a penchant for taking a little and flipping it into a highlight reel clip.

Sayers played seven seasons, half of the time that Jackson has spent in the NFL. Yet his knack for the big play and the spectacular dwarfed his length of time dodging would-be tacklers. Making defenders miss was Sayers’ specialty.

If there has been any player that has come along and mirrored the playmaking of Sayers, it is Jackson. And like Sayers, Jackson doesn’t need to get his hands on the football a whole lot to turn the routine into magic.

“I just need a couple [touches], man,” Jackson said at the team’s practice facility in Thousand Oaks. “If I get my hands on four or five, I’m good. I’m going to make the most of my opportunities. So, with that being said, I’m not asking for the majority of touches. Like I said, I get my few touches, make the most out of it and help my team win. That’s what I came here to do. As long as I’m able to do what they brought me here to do, I’m happy.”

Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson
Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) has had a mercurial career in the NFL. The Long Beach Poly High School and Cal product is in his 14th season in the NFL. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Jackson is also thrilled that he’s back home where his football career took off. From Pop Warner to starring at prep superpower Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Jackson made a name for himself early that suggested that he was primed to do big things.

Navigating the football world and the real world, however, is like night and day. On the field, Jackson was one of the best wideouts in the country for one of the more storied prep football programs around. Not getting caught up in the vices of the area surrounding the school, though, meant having a different mindset, said Jackson.

“I think for me, the mentality to kind of just doing what you need to do to stay out of the way,” Jackson said. “You know the environment you were around and surrounds you, but you know, you just got to figure out a way to survive. It’s just a survivor’s mentality, and for myself, you know, just kind of knowing right from wrong, really. That’s the biggest thing I can say. You’re around it, you know. But if somebody around you is doing some bonehead stuff, you kind of have to separate yourself from that.”

For some youths, that separation is not always easy to do. The neighborhood around Long Beach Poly is a diverse one. The school sits a couple of blocks away from the downtown area of the city. It is surrounded by churches, parks, strip malls, and a plethora of small businesses.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) has averaged over 17 yards a catch throughout his NFL career. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Drugs, homelessness and warring gang factions are also embedded in the landscape around the school that Snoop Dogg, actress Cameron Diaz, baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn and tennis great Billie Jean King once attended as teens. The area also has a high propensity for violent crime.

The Poly High District recorded 852 (per 100,000) violent crime incidents in 2019. In comparison, the number in Long Beach overall was 506 per 100,000 people. The national average was 379 per 100,000, according to Area Vibes, a neighborhood crime watch data source.

Jackson said he managed to steer clear of trouble largely by what he was taught.

“For me, I just focused and put pride into knowing the right thing to do,” Jackson said. “I had parents around me that kind of taught me the right way it’s supposed to be done. So, it can be easily provoked when you’re a young kid and you see everybody around you doing certain things. But like I said, for me, just focused and kind of motivated to try to do the right thing.”

Besides his parents instilling the right things in him, it didn’t hurt to have reinforcement. Coaches like Don Norford, a National Scholastic Athletics Foundation Hall of Fame inductee, helped keep Jackson and countless others on the right pathway.

“I think that Don Norford, obviously, the legendary coach at Long Beach Poly, coach Raul Lara [Long Beach Poly, Warren High, St. Anthony High School], Coach Doc, Keith [Thompson], them guys like that kind of stayed on us,” Jackson remarked. “They didn’t really allow us to kind of let the streets get to us. They were like, you know, we’re going to be here working. We’re going to work and when it’s time to go home, stay your butts out of the streets.”

Jackson continued, “Having guys you respect, the older gentlemen like them that had a lot of success and put a lot of kids into the NFL, man, is like either you’re going to follow that pathway or you’re going to go opposite to it and do something different. So you know, me I just stuck to it and followed it.”

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) in action during a training camp practice. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

Jackson has been there and done that. Nowadays, he’s trying to pass on those pearls of wisdom to youngsters like the ones who attend the annual DeSean Jackson Foundation F.A.S.T. Camp.

“I think that’s important to tell these kids nowadays, especially growing up. These kids think they’re all-world, but at the end of the day, you got to put the work into it. Regardless if it’s on the field or off the field, you’ve got to put the work into it and you’ve got to be understanding of every opportunity you got. You got to make the most out of it. As long as you do that and put your best foot forward and work hard, you know, I think that sky’s the limit.”

The sky has certainly been a high benchmark for Jackson to reach throughout his tenure in the NFL. After back-to-back All-American seasons at Cal, Jackson then forged his path as a gamebreaker with the Philadephia Eagles for six seasons before working for three years with current Rams head coach Sean McVay.

McVay worked as the offensive coordinator for the then-called Washington Redskins (now the Washington Football team). Two of the five seasons in which Jackson has gone over 1,000 yards in receiving (2014, 2016) during his career have been under McVay.

So it’s no coincidence that the pair have reconnected. The three-time Pro Bowler joined the Rams in the offseason via free agency. The Rams needed a vertical threat. They got one in Jackson who is still feared as a home run hitter every time he touches the football. Just ask the Seattle Seahawks.

Jackson had one catch against the Seahawks in the Rams’ 26-17 road win during a Thursday Night Football game on Oct. 7. That one catch changed the trajectory of the game. The Rams came out of halftime sitting behind a 7-3 deficit, their offense running stagnant with missed opportunities through the first two quarters.

Jackson’s 68-yard pass and catch from quarterback Matthew Stafford on the Rams’ first series in the third quarter kicked started their offense to the tune of 19 second-half points, enough for Los Angeles to record its fourth win in five games on the season.

That’s just the latest chapter in a book full of Jackson’s game-breaking ways. The moment Jackson steps on the football field the electricity thermostat seems to go up a couple of notches. It must be the gloves. It could be his swagger. Whatever it is, no moment is too big for Jackson.

Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) putting in the work during a training camp practice. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense can vouch for this. Going up against the Super Bowl champions, a team he played for in 2017 and 2018, Jackson needed just three touches to leave his footprint on the Week 3 ballgame.

With the Rams leading the Buccaneers 14-7, Stafford connected with Jackson on a 75-yard touchdown strike early in the third quarter to bump that advantage to 14 points. The Rams went on to beat Tom Brady and the Buccaneers 34-24 in a home game at SoFi Stadium.

“He’s electric,” McVay said following the Rams’ win.

Jackson finished the game against Tampa Bay with 120 receiving yards on those three catches.

“Coming out in the second half, it was huge to get that big play on a 75-yarder,” said Jackson. “It kind of electrified the stands, the fans, you know, the team. It was a real big one for us.”

McVay was the first person to meet and congratulate Jackson after that big play, which caught the 14-year veteran by surprise.

“All I know is I looked up; I came out of the tunnel and I seen him, right? He was the first one there. I didn’t realize that was going to be him,” remarked Jackson. “But we’ve got such a special relationship, you know, over the years, and the respect that we have for one another. It was a great opportunity for me to score a 75-yarder [for] the first time being back home. For me to be seen, I mean for him to be the first one that I seen, that was special.”

What’s special is watching Jackson troll defenders down the field as he leaves his track marks for them to chase. He’s done a pretty good job of it, too. Jackson is knocking on the Hall of Fame door. He’ll pass the 11,000 (currently 10,871 yards) yards in receiving soon.

He averages more than 17 yards a catch during his career. And though he has not put up a high volume of receptions thus far, Jackson is every bit the offensive threat he was when he first came into the league.

“It’s been one helluva road,” Jackson said. “I still feel like I have a lot left in the tank. I still feel like I can play at a high level. I’m just cherishing the moment of being able to be back home, enjoying it. [I’m] right here in my backyard, so looking forward to doing some great things here with this team. I know we’re definitely very confident in ourselves. We’re definitely excited about this year. We’re going to take it one game at a time, but we all know what we’re capable of doing. We just got to keep working and having fun doing it.”

Featured Image Caption: Los Angeles Rams wide receiver DeSean Jackson (1) looking for yards after the catch against the Arizona Cardinals. Photo credit: Mark Hammond/News4usonline