Throwback Thursday: Desean Jackson’s road to the NFL

By Ross Jones,

From the moment DeSean Jackson stepped on Long Beach Poly’s football field, the coaching staff knew they had a gem. Although injuries would slow down his rapid rise to being a high-school superstar, Jackson saved his breakout moment for when it mattered most.

“His breakout game was the semifinals against Mater Dei,” Jackson’s high school coach Raul Lara told “The reason I say that game is because I had to suspend a couple of my starters and he stepped up and ever since then he just ran with it.”

Jackson became a household name on the recruiting radar by the end of his junior year and would be named the top wide receiver in the nation by many scouting websites.

From a young age, Jackson was destined for greatness. By way of his late father Bill Jackson, who passed away in 2009 from pancreatic cancer and his brother Byron Jackson, the wide receiver had great role models in his life. The eldest of the Jacksons would spend countless hours with his son, molding him into an All-American. DeSean had all different types of athletic trainers and coupled with a strong work ethic, he would stand out among the rest.

“Back at Poly, those were some great days,” DeSean Jackson told in a telephone interview in April. “A lot of times I sit back and think of the great memories I have from Long Beach. I have a lot of childhood memories, but there were struggles as well, growing up in the Long Beach area. When I was in high school and just competing at a high level, we had great talent. People go there to play and win championships.”

Long Beach Poly has funneled more players into the NFL than any other school in the nation.

Jackson’s high-school career was capped in a championship game against Los Alamitos, which is highlighted in his documentary “A Making of a Father’s Dream.” As the wide receiver made a name for himself, players from the opposing team were adamant that they would shut him down. Once the local media got a hold of the talk, it took off. But none of it shook Jackson. In fact, he made the most of his opportunity that night, playing both ways as a wide receiver and cornerback.

Jackson played with a fire and when the game was under way, he made an impact, returning an interception for a touchdown and then picking off another pass. Long Beach Poly would go on to win the game 21-6.

His mountain of success on the football field turned him into a blue-chip prospect and led to a wide gauntlet of offers from premier programs.

“[DeSean] was the guy we used to bring in the recruiters to get the other guys recruited,” Lara said. “There was never an issue with him recruiting.”

Derek Dooley, an assistant coach at LSU at the time, Arizona State head coach Dirk Koetter, Cal head coach Jeff Tedford and USC head coach Pete Carroll would be the finalists and would get the chance to lure the No. 1 wide receiver in the nation to their school.

“As far as the recruiting process, I had scholarships from so many different colleges and I was able to sit back and analyze my options,” Jackson remembers. “It was a blessing getting a paid education and be able to do something I loved to do.”

After months of being pursued by Pete Carroll and the USC Trojans, something didn’t feel right. On signing day, a report leaked that Jackson was pretty much guaranteed to go to USC. That didn’t fly with Jackson. He felt that the coaching staff betrayed his trust and he decided to play for Tedford at Cal.

Jackson became a national superstar the first time he stepped on the field at Berkeley. On Cal’s first throw of the season, he scored a touchdown. Tedford was so impressed that he played Jackson at punt returner. What would he do? On the first punt of the season, the 5-foot-10, 165-pounder returned the ball for a touchdown.

Blown away? You shouldn’t be. He’s been doing things like this since he was a youngster.

Jackson reinvented the way the position was played during his first few years in the NFL. He’s made multiple Pro Bowls, but witnessed some struggles as recent as last year.

“I know last year was tough for him because everybody criticized him a little bit, but I expect him to have a great year this season,” Lara said.

If Jackson continues to work the way that he did before he made it into the league, excelling in Chip Kelly’s offense should be easy.

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