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Trishton Jackson: After quitting basketball, transferring, he finally found his footing with the Orange

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As close as he was to living his dream as a star for the Spartans, Jackson does one better by signing with an NFL team regardless

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at Syracuse Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

It is often hard for me to understand things. From how cell phones work all the way down to how you’re supposed to properly open a package of bacon, I’m typically missing the knowledge and information to give detailed answers, if anyone was actually asking me for ones. In the case of the LA Rams 2020 undrafted rookies, it would make sense to ask me questions because I’ve been covering them for the last week or so.

If you asked me what separates Rams signee Trishton Jackson from a receiver who was drafted in the fourth or fifth round, I have no idea. As complicated as Oscar Meyer to me.

Trishton Jackson was a four-star receiver (Rivals, 247) coming out of West Bloomfield High School in Michigan in 2016. From the look of his respective photos on those sites, I’d have a hard time even realizing that it was the same person.

You may also notice that each site lists a different college program for Jackson. That probably explains the difference, as the photos may have been taken at least a year apart. As is often the case for college athletes, we’ve got multiple schools ahead to discuss. But first, what happened at West Bloomfield?

Trishton Othello Jackson was born on March 9, 1998, in the aforementioned city and state. According to HowManyOfMe.com, there are “1 or fewer people in the US named Trishton.” I can guarantee it is not fewer. As a kid, Jackson did have a sports dream: to play in a Final Four with Michigan State. No, not the College Football Playoffs, those were still years away from existing. Like several other Rams rookies I’ve already written about before like Brycen Hopkins, Jackson dreamed of becoming a basketball star.

He may have had the drive and talent to do so, too. But again, as is the case with Hopkins and many others, the odds are simply so much greater to make a football roster.

It didn’t hurt that Jackson was the best athlete at his school either and starting at quarterback for the varsity team as a freshman. (I miss getting to write about things like varsity and junior varsity. Instead we write about NFL and “insert now-defunct league.”) As a sophomore, Jackson got injured and the missed time created a new opportunity to explore for head coach Ron Bellamy.

After starting as a freshman quarterback at West Bloomfield in a 2-7 season, Jackson was injured as a sophomore and missed three games. After West Bloomfield ripped off a winning streak in his absence, Bellamy approached Jackson about moving to wide receiver to close the season, not wanting to disrupt the team’s momentum.

“I sat Trishton down, and he’s a team-first player, so he said, ‘Coach, if I got to move to receiver, that’s what I’ll do,’” Bellamy said. “He moved to wide receiver, and he had over 30 catches in three games.”

At 6’2, 190 pounds, Jackson could have probably had the size to continue to play quarterback, I assume. I don’t know what separates a player who you shouldn’t move off of the QB position vs one who you should. I mean, if it was accuracy, surely there are a lot of NFL quarterbacks who I can ask, “Ok, why wasn’t that guy moved off of the position?” (Hi Cam Newton and Josh Allen.)

But like choosing football over basketball, choosing receiver over quarterback would also give Jackson many more opportunities to advance up the levels.

That being said, Jackson was still the team’s best player and they kept him at quarterback over the last two seasons, while also moving him around the field. Jackson accumulated over 3,000 total yards as a junior and West Bloomfield improved to 9-2. Things were going really well for Jackson on grass, but perhaps just as well on the court: he averaged 22.5 points, four assists, four rebounds, and four steals per game on the basketball team as a junior, leading his team to an 18-3 record and a league title.

Making perhaps the most difficult decision of his young life at that point, Jackson quit playing basketball so that he could focus on being a college football player. After all, his sophomore heroics and continued success as a junior led to him getting an offer to play football at Michigan State. His dream school.

Trishton Jackson sat down inside West Bloomfield (Mich.) High School between football and basketball season of his junior year.

Alongside him were the head coaches of the respective sports and, together, they wrote out a T-chart, listing the pros and cons of Jackson pursuing each sport at the next level.

“I kind of had to make a decision on which one I wanted to play,” Jackson said.

Ultimately, football won out. One key factor was the flurry of Power-Five attention he received after totaling nearly 3,000 combined yards and 34 touchdowns as a quarterback that fall. Another was his height as a 6-foot-2 guard.

For the 2016 class, Rivals rated Jackson as the 56th-best receiver in the country and didn’t give him a national ranking. 247 put him at 44th among receivers and 229th in the nation overall. His offers look a little strange in that Michigan State and Iowa stand out as traditionally strong college programs, but Ball State, Bowling Green, and Buffalo (and other similar schools) litter the rest of his opportunities coming out of high school.

That may have just been that Michigan State was so solid as his backyard option and that he wasn’t playing receiver in high school even though that’s what he’d be playing at the next level. He could also consider Michigan, which is where Braylon Edwards (some places I’ve seen say “cousin” and others say “family friend”) played. The decision to go to East Lansing wasn’t a difficult one though.

Michigan State was a natural landing spot for Jackson out of high school. Playing quarterback at West Bloomfield (Michigan) High School in the suburbs of Detroit — 70 miles from East Lansing — Jackson grew up in the middle of the Michigan-MSU rivalry that divides the state. His former high school coach, Ron Bellamy, and close family friend Braylon Edwards both played wide receiver at Michigan.

But Jackson had always been partial to the Spartans. He watched former MSU wideouts Plaxico Burress, Aaron Burbridge and Tony Lippett growing up, encountering the latter two playing high school football in the greater Detroit area. More than anything, Jackson loved the blue-collar nature the Spartans exemplified under head coach Mark Dantonio.

The rising senior turned in a stellar performance, playing receiver at the 2015 rendition of the annual Sound Mind Sound Body football camp. In an address at the camp, to more than a thousand high school athletes, Dantonio told them, “You want to be the breadwinner, you want to be the man,” according to a story in the Detroit Free Press.

Dantonio spoke to Jackson and his father, Obbie, after the camp, offering a gray shirt to play wideout. The next day, MSU offered a scholarship and Jackson committed 24 hours later.

Just a note on what “gray shirt” (or greyshirt) actually means:

Grey shirting is a recruiting term that is not as commonly used as the term redshirting. A grey shirt is an incoming college freshman who postpones his enrollment in classes until the second term of his freshman year. This means they don’t take classes until the winter term. The NCAA allows college athletes five years to complete four years of eligibility after initial enrollment.

When a grayshirt puts off his enrollment, he’s extending his eligibility past his senior year for another term. Grayshirting is most commonly used in football. By delaying enrollment until the winter after his senior year of high school, a football player can play the fall season one year after his graduation date.

As a high school senior, Jackson went 120-of-174 as a passer, throwing for 1,373 yards and 15 touchdowns. He also rushed for 437 yards and eight more touchdowns, plus 17 catches for 239 yards and three touchdowns. He was also considered one of the top return men in the state.

You can see plenty of what you need to see in this Hudl video (presumably posted by Jackson) from 2015 called “WATCH ME WORK!”

Jackson committed to the Spartans on June 18, 2015 and officially signed on February 3, 2016. He was hoping to get his Michigan State career off to an immediate and fruitful start but those plans quickly went the way of his Final Four dreams.

Though he did see the field as a true freshman, Jackson only caught five passes for 89 yards and one touchdown for a Spartans team that would end up going 3-9. It was all very strange, as Michigan State hadn’t lost nine games since 1982 and they had gone to the College Football Playoff in 2015. In between that 12-2 season and the 10-3 one in 2017, the Spartans absolutely sucked.

And Jackson was about ready to admit that his dream of playing for Tom Izzo was clearly not being fulfilled by his current commitment to Mike Dantonio. An increased opportunity as a sophomore didn’t lead to greater success for Jackson, but on top of that he was also learning what it was like to watch programs and teammates deal with controversies of the worst kind.

Between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Jackson watched as four veteran receivers departed the Michigan State football team.

With the departure of three of MSU’s top four pass catchers to graduation, Jackson should’ve been one of the Spartans’ top returning options.

Then, the Spartans lost the fourth receiver of that group and Jackson saw how fast circumstances could change. In January 2017, freshman wide receiver Donnie Corley, along with fellow freshmen Josh King and Demetric Vance, were suspended and ultimately dismissed from the team in June 2017 for alleged sexual assault. It was shocking for Jackson to see three close friends were removed in a matter of months.

“I definitely got that realization, about how life can change so quickly,” Jackson said. “And it made me mature, to make the decision to leave. I think I matured from that situation.”

He had all the tools (you’d think) necessary to become the team’s top wideout in 2017, but Jackson caught only 12 passes for 143 yards. Older teammates Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr led the team in receiving, while freshman Cody White (now a UDFA signee of the Kansas City Chiefs) was looking like he’d have the career that Jackson had hoped to have.

The lack of playing time. The poor fit with the coaching staff. The allegations around his teammates. Jackson was ready to get out of there. He also wasn’t afraid to say that Dantoni was simply not his kinda coach.

The coaching staff at MSU wasn’t the best fit for Jackson, either, he said. Orders were given without explanation and, even when well-intended, rubbed the wrong way. Though the relationship soured, Jackson holds no ill will toward Michigan State.

“It’s more Saban-esque, business-y-like vibes and I don’t think everybody liked what he had to say about things,” Jackson said about Dantonio and the culture at Michigan State.

During that offseason, Bellamy spoke to Syracuse defensive line coach Vinson Reynolds, and told him about the potential star he used to have on his high school team who was now looking to leave Michigan State. Jackson and his mother met with head coach Dino Babers, who asked the transfer if he was fast (“Yeah,” he said) and if he wanted to catch 100 balls (“Of course.”) Babers wanted Jackson and vice versa.

I have a bad brain though, so I’ll let Daily Orange explain some transfer rules and the one game that Jackson was allowed to play in for Syracuse that year.

The commitment came with the year-long wait Division I football transfers must go through when changing schools, finishing two semesters in residence before becoming eligible. During spring ball, Jackson practiced with his new team and continued with summer workouts. While the rest of the team prepared to play Western Michigan, Jackson toiled through camp toward a season on the scout team, emulating the opponent’s receivers week-to-week.

...

A new NCAA rule allowed both Jackson and Oklahoma transfer running back Abdul Adams to play in SU’s bowl game last season. When Jackson got the news, he called Bellamy and told him he had a surprise.

“He was like, ‘I might be eligible to play in the bowl game,’” Bellamy remembered Jackson saying. “You know, I didn’t know the rule. I was like, ‘Dude. We’ve had this discussion. You have to sit out a year.’”

In his lone game, the Camping World Bowl vs West Virginia, Jackson caught a 14-yard touchdown pass in the fourth quarter from quarterback Eric Dungey. The Orange won to finish 10-3, their best record since 2001. Everything was lining up for Babers, who had gone 4-8 in his first two seasons, but while Syracuse came in way below expectations last season, Babers at least tried to make good on his commitment to Jackson of 100 catches.

If there is one obvious reason for Jackson going undrafted, it is that I’ve gotten to this part of the profile without posting a single college highlight. Part of that is on me, and most of that is on the fact that Jackson had 20 career catches going into last season. From the ages of 0 to 21, Jackson had only spent a small fraction of his life playing receiver on a football field. He was a high school quarterback and a three-year backup.

All projection, no production.

Welcome the production. And the highlights. For Jackson, at least.

After a ho-hum 24-0 win over Liberty, 21st-ranked Syracuse went to Maryland to face the Terrapins in Week 2. A Syracuse-Maryland matchup whets all my whistles if its a 2001 March Madness game, but the madness here is that the Orange were ranked before this. Maryland went up 28-7 early in the second quarter and ended up winning 63-20.

Maryland finished last season with a 3-9 record.

Though a terrible day for his team, Jackson finished with a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches. Prior to that game, Jackson had 280 career yards.

After getting taken out of the equation by a top-ranked Clemson program (two catches, 16 yards), Jackson had six catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns vs Western Michigan.

The next week, six catches for 58 yards and a touchdown vs Holy Cross. The next, nine catches for 106 yards and a touchdown vs NC State.

This pretty much continued for Jackson, and while Syracuse went a disappointing 5-7, he ended up with a really impressive stat line. Though he wasn’t near 100 catches, Jackson joined a different “round number” group.

66 catches, 1,023 yards, 11 touchdowns.

Though he had turned his college football career around, Jackson didn’t quit trying to get better. Midway through his senior campaign, he noted that he had at least 10 things he needed to get better at.

“Going forward, I just need to be more of a vocal leader in the offensive room and on the team as well,” Jackson said. “As far as playing, everything. I can name 10 things I need to get better at.

“I’m a dude who has to work out, work on my strengths and weaknesses. I think the most important thing right now is to be a leader for our football team and put ourselves in situations to win football games.”

This was a considerably different mindset than the one Jackson had a year earlier, when he attempted to walk-on to the Syracuse basketball team as he was awaiting his eligibility for the football team.

“I was working out, just shooting around, playing pickup with the team and Coach Boeheim was watching the game. He kept watching, kept watching,” Jackson said. “I finally introduced myself and I told him I wanted to walk on. He told me it was very possible and he’ll talk to my coach. And from there, we stayed in contact. I stayed in contact with Eric Devendorf. And he helped me out, also.”

It was a nice idea but Babers was like, “Nah.”

“At the end of the day, he brought me here to play football,” Jackson said. “I’ve got to respect that and I’ve got to respect myself, too, because I’ve always loved basketball, but I came here to play football.”

He came to Syracuse to play football and after a successful season, Jackson decided to forego his final year of eligibility to try and go do the same thing at the NFL. Lord knows, I don’t expect Sean McVay to allow Jackson to walk-on to the Lakers.

“I’m entering the 2020 NFL Draft not just to change my life but to change my family’s life. My mother, my father, my older brothers. Being from Detroit, looking up to Barry Sanders, the Calvin Johnsons, and also I look up to people like Mohamed Sanu, Keenan Allen, and I feel like I’m ready to play with them guys. You know what I’m saying, I’m ready to bet on myself and double down. And I can’t wait to start this journey and that’s why I’m entering the 2020 NFL Draft.”

Trishton Jackson worked out with Proven4 to get himself ready for the combine, which I only mention as a setup to this hype video about it.

At the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine, Jackson measured in at 6’1, 191 pounds, 32.4” arms, and 9.75” hands. He ran a 4.5 in the 40-yard dash, had a 36” vertical, and a 117” broad jump. Consider these three receiver measurements at the combine:

  • Brandon Aiyuk, 6’, 205 pounds, 4.5 40-yard dash, 40” vertical, 128” broad, 25th overall
  • CeeDee Lamb, 6’2, 198 pounds, 4.5 40-yard dash, 34.5” vertical, 124” broad, 17th overall
  • Trishton Jackson, 6’1, 190 pounds, 4.5 40-yard dash, 36” vertical, 117” broad, undrafted

The senior season was good. The combine was good. What people were saying about Jackson was pretty good too. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein called him a fifth round pick, but compared him to Paul Richardson, a former second round pick.

Developmental, finesse receiver with highly threatening speed as a field-stretching Z. Jackson is a one-year wonder whose 2019 season is quite impressive considering the many raw and underdeveloped elements of his play. Vertical separation isn’t a problem, but winning 50/50 balls is. He struggles to track and adjust to throws when forced to break stride and has difficulties finishing contested catches against bigger cornerbacks. The ball skills and instincts need to get better, but better deep ball accuracy and more varied usage as a pro could unlock additional potential and make him an intriguing middle route option.

Though Zierlein lists considerable weaknesses for Jackson, like lacking play strength and not having much experience or tape showing a multi-faceted route tree, he also says, “Substantial improvement possible with coaching.”

The Rams do have some pretty good coaches when it comes to building up receivers.

One article notes that they ran 50 7-round mock draft simulations over at The Draft Network back in January. Jackson was drafted exactly zero times. That didn’t change when the real thing happened.

Jackson was not one of the 255 college athletes or 35 wide receivers to be drafted in April. Instead, he waited at home, as we all did, and then like none of us did, he signed with the LA Rams following the draft. The Rams also picked receiver Van Jefferson in the second round, making for one surefire rookie to make the roster over him, assuming health.

McVay traded away Brandin Cooks, but has Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods as two of the top receivers in the NFC. Jefferson slots in as the number three and Josh Reynolds as a number four, presumably. That leaves potentially 1-3 remaining spots for receivers.

I’ve already written about UDFA Earnest Edwards and what to like or be skeptical about there. That piece also talks briefly about Nsimba Webster and Greg Dortch. There are also three other undrafted receivers on the roster who I haven’t gotten to yet. All in all, Jackson appears to be a practice squad candidate who could use the year to grow as a receiver and make up for the two years he spent at Michigan State and the transfer year at Syracuse. He was successful when put in a position to be successful and that is encouraging. If Jackson were to add 10 pounds without dropping speed and also improving on his route running, he could be much more than an undrafted free agent.

Even if he were Paul Richardson, potentially never a second round disappointment if he was healthy, that would go so far beyond expectations.

But for all intents and purposes, this UDFA profile on Jackson doesn’t seem any different to me than 3,500 words on an early day three pick. I think he could have been that too and therefore, it is possible he could also be on the roster next season. But what do I know?

I haven’t even been able to have bacon in years.