Lamar Jackson missed Monday’s football practice. The senior cornerback had good reason. His son—Legacy Nathan Jackson—was born that day.
Jackson posted to his Instagram Stories from the hospital. “Time to turn it up a notch,” he wrote as a caption. “Family to feed.” Two days later, he was back on the practice field for the Huskers’ eighth practice of spring football.
It hasn’t been an easy road at Nebraska for the senior cornerback. He has faced plenty of criticism over his first three seasons with the Huskers. The concerns mostly centered around his maturity, or some felt his lack thereof.
Jackson has been a staple of Nebraska’s defense since he was a true freshman, playing in all 13 games of the 2016 season before making his first start in the Music City Bowl against Tennessee. He was a full-time starting cornerback by his sophomore season in 2017 and the only member of Nebraska’s secondary to start every game that season. He finished his sophomore campaign with 38 tackles, the most by any Nebraska cornerback.
Yet, it still felt like Jackson wasn’t reaching his full potential. Nebraska’s 56-14 loss to Ohio State in 2017 highlighted the issues. Before he was a Husker himself, safety Tre Neal watched from Orlando—where he was still a UCF Knight at the time—as Jackson matched up with Buckeye wide receiver Parris Campbell. Jackson hesitated to turn and look for the ball, and struggled to play the technique correctly.
“I was like, ‘Dude. You’re 6-foot-3, 215 pounds,’” Neal previously said.
The talent and size were there. The potential, too. But something needed to change, specifically with Jackson’s mindset. To live up to his talent, the mental aspect had to precede it.
Fast forward to Sept. 28, 2018. Nebraska versus Purdue. Jackson had just been called for a holding penalty that erased an interception from a teammate. He hadn’t realized it. He was instead dancing on the sideline.
Coach Scott Frost was fed up. He—alongside defensive coordinator Erik Chinander and defensive backs coach Travis Fisher—benched Jackson. After the game, he was given the expectation—“You want to be a pro. We expect you to act like a pro.”—and he was expected to earn back his spot. It took two weeks. It took another week beyond that to finally earn his coveted Blackshirt.
It’s been six months (to the day) since that Purdue game. Since then, Jackson has found his groove and has become a leader in Fisher’s room. Alongside a handful of other players, including senior inside linebacker Mohamed Barry and sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, Jackson helped lead a workout the Sunday before Nebraska returned from spring break.
“We got a little 7-on-7 going, we got a little lift and we prepared to come back to work,” Jackson said. “We didn’t want to take no step backs, because we knew that spring break is a distraction, so now we’ve got to come back to work and come back how we’re supposed to.”
Those are the moments that make Barry the most proud. And those moments have become more and more frequent since the middle of last season, something Barry doesn’t hesitate to compliment Jackson on.
“I texted him early on during winter conditioning about how proud I am of him, how mature he got through the years,” Barry said. “I’m always blunt with people and I tell them the truth. At first, there were complications with that and what made me respect him was how he handled the most adversity, which was losing his position for a minute and then coming back and how he was in practice the next week and how he embraced the culture instead of just looking at the culture and spitting on it and blaming the culture instead of blaming himself. He got better.
“I think that’s real great and he matured as a man and the fact that this Lamar has a kid, I’m excited for that kid because he’s going to learn a lot from his dad.”
Yes, this Lamar Jackson is a dad. He smiles thinking about it, which he did a lot of when he met with the media on Wednesday.
He also understands the seriousness of his situation. He’s no longer playing for himself. He’s playing for his family. For his son.
"You have no choice. Just the whole little process of having a child and all this, it's life changing,” Jackson said. “Honestly it's hard to explain. I'm sure some of you have kids so you know. I'm young. I loved every moment of it. There is no book to this so I'm just going to keep working.
“I feel like I had to do what I had to do because it was my last year but it's just mandatory now. Time to turn it up a little bit and keep going."
He won’t be alone in navigating it all though. Fisher was clear on that. While the staff will expect him to be a man for his family and son, Jackson has their full support.
“That’s a big step, being a father,” Fisher said. “Lamar has matured so much over the time that I’ve been here and he knows it. He’s matured so much and he has full support from me and the rest of the coaches.”
That support includes finishing school, which is even more important from the staff’s perspective. They want Jackson to be successful on the football field, but they also want him to be successful in school.
Jackson has only been a father for a few days, but he’s finding his way. He knows it’ll take some time to figure out, but he’s never been one to give up. Adversity only makes him work a little harder.
For himself. For his family. For his Legacy.
Erin is the Deputy Editor and Digital Marketing Strategist for Hail Varsity. She has covered Nebraska athletics since 2012, which has included stops at Bleacher Report, Cox Media Group’s Land of 10, and even Hail Varsity (previously from 2012-2017). She has also been featured on the Big Ten Network, NET’s Big Red Wrap-Up, and a varsity of radio shows nationwide. When not covering the Huskers, Erin is probably at Chipotle.