For James Jackson, it eventually came down to being in the right place at the right time, and USF is going to give him a chance to finally fulfill his potential – if only briefly.
Jackson, four years removed from Tallahassee Lincoln High School, has committed to the Bulls and will have one season of eligibility remaining.
Despite being undersized to play defensive line, he racked up 102 tackles (24 solos), 22 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and earned all-state honors in his senior season of 2002. In limited action as a fullback, Jackson totaled 389 yards on 32 carries and scored six touchdowns. He also had 15 pancake blocks to go along with an amazing eight two-point conversions.
His stock really rose in the post-season when he busted off a 50-yard game-clinching touchdown run against Palm Bay in the state semi-finals. Jackson followed that up by scoring two touchdowns in the 2002 CaliFlorida all-star game. Recruited by programs such as Florida State, Tennessee and Georgia Tech, he eventually failed to qualify academically.
Jackson wound up enrolling at Santa Monica (Calif.) College, where he played running back as a freshman and suffered a broken wrist that required surgery. He sat out the following year, then returned at linebacker for SMCC in 2004, where he registered 90 tackles, four sacks and forced four fumbles.
This year, he returned home to Tallahassee and did not attend school. He was given an invitation as a preferred walk-on at FSU, pending completion of his AA degree. Jackson's first contact with USF came when he was introduced to Head Coach Jim Leavitt by Lincoln High coaches on an almost chance meeting.
"I was just hanging around the campus when Coach Leavitt was there and the Lincoln coaches told him that he should take a look at me," Jackson remembered. "He liked me and he's going to give me a shot to put my foot in the ground at USF."
Jackson (6-1/260) played on a Lincoln team in 2002 that also featured Florida's Gavin Dickey and Miami's Greg Threat. He said the Bulls plan to give him a look at either linebacker or defensive end when he arrives next summer. He does have some remaining classwork to complete before he's able to enroll.
"I'm very excited. This is something I've been looking forward to for a long time," Jackson said. "I'm going to get to play in a good, head-busting conference. It's the most fun you can have smashing people without getting arrested."
Jackson will make his official visit to USF on Jan. 13.