For the first time in his life, Lamar Jackson wasn’t proud of what he saw when he looked in the mirror.
OK, it wasn’t an actual mirror, but rather game film.
“I don’t even like watching freshman film,” Jackson, now entering his sophomore season, said. “That’s not what I want to show people, that’s not what I’m capable of.”
The former 4-star safety-turned-corner was disappointed, to say the least, in his performance as a freshman. Even though cornerback might be one of the more difficult positions to make the transition from high school to college ball, Jackson didn’t do himself any favors with his attitude during his first go-around with Nebraska.
“Mind wasn’t right, I’d just shake (criticism) off,” he said.
Criticism went in one ear and out the other, coaching didn’t take and Jackson said he would sometimes even talk back to coaches. That’s not to say he’s a bad kid, just that “you have your own ego,” as a new kid on the block.
Now, with Jackson poised to potentially start in the Huskers secondary, the proverbial switch has flipped. Jackson’s maturity comes not out of necessity following Joshua Kalu’s move to safety and an injury to senior Chris Jones – even though Jackson acknowledged he “had no choice” in the matter – but out of Jackson’s own drive to be better.
“I wasn’t happy with what I did my freshman year so this offseason I came in each day and said I’m going to be different,” he said. “This is going to be my year. Everything that I had a problem with, I struggled with, I plan on fixing it. I’m just trying to go to work, not talk about it, and just show everybody when it comes time.”
One person Jackson has already shown? His position coach, Donte Williams.
“Lamar has already showed a big jump,” he said. “His play has never really been the problem though, the biggest thing for him is maturity.”
To his credit, Jackson has a relatively clean slate to work from in starting over. Despite seeing time in five games last season, Williams, the Huskers’ defensive backs coach, said Jackson is still learning.
“He didn’t redshirt last year, he’s a true sophomore. He got a little bit of a humble pie as a freshman,” Williams said. “Lamar is still learning how to play corner.”
In the offseason, Jackson emphasized eye discipline. With a move from the boundary to the field, the margin for error has grown smaller and he’s had to work on fine tuning the details, like the number of lunges he needs to take to reach the boundary now, where he keeps his eyes and when to turn on the jets and use his speed. It’s been about technique and attitude.
Last season, when the days got long and the practices grew tiresome, Jackson shut down. Now, he empties the tank. Nothing gets held back.
Except the excuses.
“Now (coaches) don’t really have to say too much, they know I’m bringing it,” he said. “And if they do say something I’m like ‘alright, let’s keep it going.’ ”
Williams likes his defensive backs to be oozing confidence. “If you’re not confident and you play DB, you shouldn’t be here and you shouldn’t be around me,” he said. And as Jackson’s maturity has risen, his confidence has boomed.
“That’s the kind of guy he is,” Williams said. “He’s competitive, he learns football, he processes information well so he’s only going to get better.”
Jackson’s gotten help along the way, too. Before, Jackson’s fun-loving attitude would clash with Jones, who preferred more of a yeoman-like approach last season. The two would butt heads, according to Jackson, but now, with Jones sidelined, they’ve grown close and Jones has been taking every opportunity to coach up the younger Jackson.
“He sees me working, so honestly he’s excited for me,” Jackson said. “He said he can’t wait to watch me play. He sees me growing.”
That growth, more intrinsic than anything else, has Jackson itching to prove people wrong, to show that his play last season wasn’t up to snuff.
“No more finessing,” he said. “I’m about to go to work, I’m not going to talk about it, they’re going to realize.”
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.