LINCOLN, Neb. — It wasn’t a surprise that true freshman cornerback Lamar Jackson saw action in his first game at Nebraska. That was sort of the expectation for the 4-star defensive back coming out of high school, but expectations and reality aren’t always the best teammates.
“That was the plan,” Jackson said three days after recording six tackles and two tackles for loss, including one sack, in his Husker debut against Fresno State. “It’s one thing to say it, it’s another thing to do it. I struggled early.”
Defensive coordinator Mark Banker didn’t disagree with that assessment.
“I thought he started out a little bit tentative,” Banker said. “I thought that he picked it up as things went on. There’s no doubt in my mind that he is a good football player, a good athlete and more importantly he wants to be a good football player.”
Any player’s first college game is going to be a whirlwind but particularly so for a true freshman in the secondary. Fresno State targeted Jackson a number of times on Saturday. The Bulldogs’ lone touchdown came against Jackson in coverage, but that might have been what allowed the freshman to settle down thanks to what he saw when he returned to the sideline.
“The biggest thing I learned is people are going to catch the ball,” Jackson said. “You’ve got to have a short-term memory. When people did catch the ball, when my guy scored on me, none of my teammates knocked me down. They kind of built me up. Once I realized that it was like ‘just go out there and play.’”
With a game under his belt, Jackson said it won’t be long before he welcomes being picked on by opposing coordinators.
“Each day I’ve got to come out and get better, because there’s still some stuff I haven’t seen and stuff I don’t know,” Jackson said. “If I come out here and get better each day I’m going to start wanting them to target me.”
Despite some ups and downs early in the opener, Banker remained confident that Jackson would continue to progress.
“We’ll continue to see more of him along the way. He’s going to compete just like everybody else,” Banker said. “I think what’s important for him as a freshman in the secondary is you can learn by fire, but you want to make sure they always have confidence.
“Even veteran corners, if they lose their stinger it’s not a good thing.”
It hasn’t been a straight path to playing time for Jackson, who admitted there were some bumps in the road during fall camp.
“There’s times you have to humble yourself,” Jackson said. “I had many talks, pep talks. I called back home to my trainers and stuff like that because they knew I was struggling. They just told me, ‘J, go out there and work. You can’t worry about all this stuff you can’t control.’”
By the time Jackson got back to his locker following his first game, his phone was full of messages. There was a call from mom. But Jackson took about 10 minutes to just sit there and contemplate what had just happened.
“I kind of just took a moment and took it in. I was happy it was over, my first college game, 90,000, I was enjoying it.”
Brandon is the Managing Editor for Hail Varsity and has covered Nebraska athletics for the magazine and web since 2012, Hail Varsity’s first season on the scene. His sports writing has also been featured by Fox Sports, The Guardian and CBS Sports.