This story I wrote appeared on the Georgia Southern athletic department website.
By Dean Buchan
When Georgia Southern’s Edwin Jackson picked off a pass in the fourth quarter of a 28-6 win at South Alabama earlier this season, there wasn’t a spit second when senior linebacker allowed himself to think of the play’s significance before being hauled down at the 12-yard line, a 48-yard return.
The play, which foiled any thought of a late South Alabama rally, was significant for many reasons. It was the first interception of Jackson’s remarkable walk-on-to-star-performer career and it secured the first FBS conference victory in Georgia Southern history. In some regards, Jackson’s INT may have symbolized the team’s official arrival as a legitimate player on the FBS level.
“When I first caught the ball,” Jackson said, “I thought, ‘This is really happening.’ But I didn’t think about the significance of it all. It didn’t hit me until a day or two later.
“I do remember seeing my teammates on the sideline. I saw how happy they were. That’s what I remember.”
And that is Edwin Jackson in a nutshell. Even when he owned center stage, he thought of others.
Growing up in a home where he was one of 10 children – Edwin is the fourth-youngest of the group — lends itself to being unselfish. His parents, Wesley, Sr., and Mary Ellen’s strict, but loving, environment helped make sure of it.
“My family is very close,” said Jackson, who attended Atlanta’s Westlake High School. “I don’t know where I would be if I didn’t have such a big, close family.”
The Jackson 12 squeezed cozily into their modest four-bedroom house in southwest Atlanta.
“It was a great experience,” Jackson said of his childhood. “Every one of us knew our role. My older brothers had to look over us.”
One of those older brothers, Adam, the second-oldest of 10, has a different perspective.
“Of course Edwin says it was a great experience,” Adam said with a laugh. “He was one of the younger ones, so it was all fun and games for him, maybe not for the older kids.”
The family – with the likely exception of older sister Michelle, who lives in Oregon – will all be at the Georgia Dome Saturday when Jackson and the Eagles play Georgia State. A count of family and friends at the game to support Jackson will spill over the 100 mark.
Saturday’s game marks the Eagles’ second trip to Atlanta this fall. Earlier this season, Southern lost a 42-38 heart-breaker at Georgia Tech.
Playing two games in two of Atlanta’s most famous sports facilities is not something Jackson could have envisioned five years ago when he first came to Georgia Southern.
Jackson had no idea he would be a part of a football program that would make the jump from FCS to FBS. He didn’t know that he would play for two different head coaches and two defensive coordinators.
Jackson didn’t know he would be playing college football, period.
Even though he was a three-year captain at Westlake, he wasn’t highly recruited. Heights, weights, 40-yard dash times are evaluated for college prospects. While Jackson’s other measurables might have been average, the size of his heart was far from it.
At the urging of Adam, Jackson decided to attend Georgia Southern, even though there was no offer of a scholarship.
“I was aware of the (football) tradition here,” Edwin said. “I look up to my brother (Adam) a lot, and he told me, ‘This is the school for you.'”
Adam, who played basketball at Albany State, saw something in his little brother that the college scouts may have overlooked.
“I know what a Division I athlete looks like,” Adam said. “I knew he deserved more attention than what he was receiving.”
Jackson and Georgia Southern have proved to be a perfect fit, although the marriage didn’t come without hard work.
First, Jackson earned a spot on the roster as a walk-on and toiled on the scout team for 2.5 years before working his way on to the two-deep. Last year he emerged as one of Georgia Southern’s top defenders, started in every game and was the team’s leading tackler. This season, his last as a collegian, he has developed into one of the premier linebackers in the Sun Belt Conference.
He has witnessed firsthand Georgia Southern’s transition from being one of the most successful, tradition-rich FCS programs to competition in the bigger FBS arena. The transition to FBS began last season, a year of limbo stuck in between the Southern and Sun Belt Conferences, ineligible for either league’s championship, the playoffs or a bowl game.
Jackson helped make sure that the 2013 season didn’t just go quietly into the night. The Eagles closed the season with a memorable 26-20 victory in “The Swamp” against the Florida Gators.
Jackson remembers the week of the Florida game vividly.
“That entire week the team just came together,” Jackson said. “The student body came together. The community came together. When we got down (to Gainesville) you could just feel it was the perfect moment to do what we did.
“On defense, we love one another. We knew we weren’t as big as an SEC team, but we felt like we were quicker. Faster. And I think we wanted it more than them. It was our bowl game. It was our Super Bowl.”
Jackson, the top tackler in that epic win, stepped off the field and said to those nearby, “that just happened!” making the statement for himself and for the program.
The celebration following the win over Florida continued for most GSU faithful through Thanksgiving. For Jackson, however, there wasn’t much time to party. He was already thinking about a way to share his passion for the sport of football with others.
Jackson knew that he wanted to spend part of the Christmas holiday on a trip. He knew he wanted to go somewhere his Spanish minor might come into play (he’s an international trade major who is on track to graduate in December). He knew he wanted to go to a place he could help others.
“Don’t just take a trip,” Adam told him. “Think about doing something outside the box. Do something different.”
You want outside the box, you got it, Mister.
Jackson teamed with his friend, former Eagles’ soccer player Chris Claxton and Claxton’s family, and formulated a plan to put on a clinic in the Claxton family’s native Costa Rica, where Jackson would teach local children the game of American football. The plan moved quickly from dream to reality with Jackson organizing the logistics for the clinic during Georgia Southern’s Christmas break.
Jackson wants to develop this initial idea into a non-profit program, Global Gridiron, to share his love of football with underprivileged children. Despite transportation woes and equipment shortages in Costa Rica, the trip was, according to Jackson, an overwhelming success.
It’s just not clear, however, who benefited the most – the children or Jackson. The children were entranced by the game Jackson taught them, by the football drills they learned, and absorbed the healthy lifestyle lessons Jackson taught. To them, he was bigger than life.
“People there are going through things I can’t even imagine,” Jackson said. “Kids are having to take care of siblings, cook and provide for their families.
“What I got out of the trip is that I am blessed that I have the power to give back to people, and I am blessed to have an older brother like I have.”
The moments of celebration, of success, and gratitude came with a price. Jackson’s time on the Eagles’ scout team made him appreciate his opportunities, his invitation to preseason camp, and the hard days of preparing Georgia Southern’s starters for their upcoming opponent.
His tenacity and toughness were forged by his family, too, where his older brothers taught some painful lessons. When Jackson was just a little tyke, he played the older, bigger, stronger Adam in a one-on-one basketball game in the Jackson driveway.
“We had a five-foot goal set up at one end of the driveway,” Edwin said. “I got the ball and dribbled towards the goal. When I put up the shot, Adam blocked it. He didn’t just block it — he swatted it over the roof of the house.”
Jackson ran away, tears running down his cheeks.
“Edwin was really little when that happened – like 3 or 4 years old – and I was a teenager,” Adam said. “But I never gave him any slack. I tried to make him tougher.”
One of many lessons Adam has given his younger sibling. And one Jackson never forgot.
“Adam has never let me be average,” Jackson said.
Adam’s lifelong influence on Edwin helped steer him to Georgia Southern. Jackson’s hard work and determination, with encouragement from Adam, pushed him from being a walk-on to Eagles’ defensive leader. On Saturday, Jackson will be playing for and thousands of Eagle fans, but most importantly, for his family and friends who never let him settle for being average.