(Little Train) James, Jackson's former roommate and running mate who was
drafted in the fifth round by the San Diego Chargers. Jackson still calls James
his best buddy, and he'd just as soon tell of a block he threw for James--like
how he took out a Georgia cornerback on Nov. 12, 1983, to spring James for
Auburn's only touchdown in a 13-7 win--as describe a scoring run of his own.
But James tempted him, says Jackson. He tried to get him to party. And Jackson
so prized his Al Green and Mahalia Jackson gospel albums that he kept them in
the sanctity of his bedroom. "I didn't leave 'em out by the stereo, with
Lionel's Gap Band and Prince," he says.
Jackson was 15 when he found a joint in a paper bag at school. He brought it
home, locked himself in the bathroom with the window open and smoked it.
"After that I ate out the whole refrigerator, fell asleep and got
sick," he recalls. "Now I get high off of nature, sports and being
parking tickets. Jackson once visited the video arcade on College Street in
Auburn to work the Galaga game, an exercise in kill-or-be-killed in which, he
says, "you're dodging bullets all the time." When Jackson emerged to
find a ticket on his windshield, he drove straight to the police department.
Fifty cents, paid-in-full. "If you don't pay within 24 hours, it goes up to
a dollar," says Jackson.
athlete so gifted that the very abundance of his gifts worked to obscure his
greatness. That's a tough concept to latch on to, but consider Jackson's case.
"We knew the body was a great talent, but we didn't know he was that great
a back in high school," says Auburn coach Pat Dye. And who could tell? At
McAdory High in McCalla, Ala., he'd only carry the ball 11 times a game because
he was so busy playing every down on defense, returning kicks, kicking off,
punting and kicking PATs and field goals. "He didn't pile up the great
stats," says McAdory coach Dick Atchison, "because he never came off
that's not true. "I'd leave the field to put on the kicking shoe," he
says. "And I'd leave it to take it off."
In high school
Jackson did things like twist his ankle while winning the state title in the
triple jump (48' 8�") and then come back the same day to set a state record
(9.54) in the 100-yard dash; like throw a discus 149 feet without spinning his
body, because he'd never been taught the proper form; like win the state
decathlon crown his junior and senior years without running the mile, the final
event, because "distance is the only thing I hate about track."
As a high school
senior, Jackson hit .493 with 20 home runs and was drafted by the New York
Yankees, who offered him a $250,000 contract. He played centerfield and
shortstop for the most part, but pitched on occasion, too, showing a 92-mph
fastball and throwing two no-hitters during his final season. "I hated
it," he says. "There's no action on the mound. You just sit there and
throw the ball. But that's all I did when I was little. Throw. Started out with
Jackson is the
Southeastern Conference's first three-sport letterman in 20 years. He has the
fastest time (4.12) in the 40 ever turned in by a football player, college or
pro, and bench-presses 400 pounds. "Every so often in practice he does
things--balance and awareness things--that we've never seen before," says
Jack Crowe, Dye's offensive coordinator. "The fact that he wasn't a
polished runner in high school has him learning his style as he goes. He
started last year trying to knock folks down. By the second half of the season
he was giving them the fast track instead of the hard road. And he didn't
fumble but once last year, when he took his eye off a pitchout. Then he threw
all of his athletic ability into trying to get that ball back."
scouts love his arm, strength and speed but wonder about his bat. As a freshman
centerfielder at Auburn, Jackson struck out 21 straight times before cracking
his first hit. In the spring of '84 he gave up baseball to concentrate on track
but quit at midseason, partly because his best time in the 100 meters, a 10.39
at the Florida Relays in March, wasn't good enough to qualify him for the
Olympic trials, and partly because the demands of being a Heisman
hopeful--interviews, addressing school kids and the like--took up too much
time. "He didn't come to Auburn to run track," says Dye, who doubles as
athletic director. "He came to play football. And he's just beginning to
realize the impact he can have on a game."
So is his coach.
Jackson didn't have a great day against Texas in the Tigers' only loss of 1983,
mainly because Dye had his quarterback get the ball to Jackson only seven
times--"a drastic mistake," the coach admits. In fact, Jackson has a
knack for playing well in big games. In a 28-21 defeat of Florida, a game in
which he played while suffering from a virus, he went 55 yards on his second
run from scrimmage, then 80 on another, to score twice. And, for reasons we'll
soon see, he has a showman's way of beating up on 'Bama.