USC’s Jackson plans ‘freakish things,’ and Trojans hope tech can help
EDITOR’S NOTE: USC’s Adoree’ Jackson definitely qualifies as one of FOX Sports’ Top 25 "Freaks" in college football for 2015. Find out just how highly he ranks as FOX Sports senior writer Bruce Feldman unveils his list this week, starting Tuesday.
LOS ANGELES — Steve Sarkisian’s been around some electrifying talent, but the USC coach says sophomore DB/WR/KR Adoree’ Jackson may be the best athlete he’s ever been associated with — and yeah, by saying that, he expects to get a call from Reggie Bush taking issue with it.
But that’s how special Sarkisian thinks the 5-foot-11, 185-pound speedster is. Jackson, who moonlights with the USC track team, even won the Pac-12 long jump title a few months back. (Sarkisian points out that Jackson also came in fourth in the 100 meters and ran the anchor on the Trojans’ 4×100 team. Jackson became the first USC football letterman to earn track All-America honors in an individual event since Sultan McCullough in 2000.) But make no mistake, football is Jackson’s first love, and the Trojans expect to see him become the breakout star of 2015 in college football. The question for Sarkisian is, exactly how much can they get out of their three-way Freak in 2015?
Ask USC linebacker Su’a Cravens about the freakiest thing he’s ever witnessed Jackson do, and he’ll tell you about a day this offseason where some of the USC players were helping out a youth camp. Jackson watched a little kid struggling to do the broad jump.
Cravens said Jackson, wearing sweats and tennis shoes, stepped in to demonstrate and proceeded to soar 11 feet, 5 inches. Jackson, told of Cravens’ story a week later, said he didn’t jump quite that far.
He knows Byron Jones of UConn vaulted 12 feet, 3 inches at the Combine last February, setting a world record. And when it’s Jackson’s time in Indy, he plans to go 12 feet-plus.
"It’s all about technique," he said. "I think it’s realistic for me."
For now, Jackson, who has bulked up seven pounds since last season, is focused on making plays for the USC football team.
Last year, Jackson dabbled with offense, scoring three touchdowns on just 11 touches while going mostly as a DB/return man. Two more of his 23 kick returns also went for TDs. On defense, Jackson had 49 tackles with 10 pass deflections, four TFLs, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
"So how are we going to use him?" Sarkisian said. "The best way we can without killing the poor kid as the season goes on. A lot will be dependent upon how some of our other DBs progress and how much we can use him on the offensive side of the ball. But I would be remiss if I didn’t try to get the ball in his hands because he can score at any moment. When he gets the ball in his hands, he doesn’t believe he is going to get tackled, and I don’t think he is either.
"I’d be foolish not to give him the ball. A lot of it is going to depend on the development of our other DBs and how much we can reduce some of his role on defense to maximize him more on offense. But he’s too talented not to put the ball in his hands."
Bill Curry, former head coach at Georgia Tech, Alabama, Kentucky and Georgia State, played both center and linebacker at Tech. In 2002, I interviewed him for a magazine story about Chris Gamble, who had emerged as a two-way star for Ohio State in what proved to be a Buckeyes’ national title season. Gamble had proved to be quite the marathon man for the Buckeyes. In one mid-November overtime game against Illinois, he was on the field for 130 of 146 plays. I had charted Gamble’s output during the course of that game, which lasted 3 hours and 23 minutes. His two-way totals included the extent of 35 10-yard sprints, 38 15-yard sprints, 25 20-yard sprints, 11 25-yard sprints, 6 40-yard sprints. Gamble’s day amounts to almost a mile-and-a-quarter of sprinting. The World’s Fastest Man at the time, Tim Montgomery, said his most grueling workout was a regimen of nine 90-meter dashes, which covered only a half-mile. To put Gamble’s day into sharper context, he covered nearly the same distance that the field runs during the Kentucky Derby — and he was running backward half the time.
Curry explained the most impressive thing about the modern two-way (or three-way) player is that in his era, the guys he was going up against were also playing all the time. "Gamble goes up against guys who are resting while he’s out there busting it," Curry told me.
Sarkisian said USC doesn’t have any idea of a play count for Jackson, that they’re still figuring that out.
"We need to manage him because I need him to be really good in November, just like I want him to be really good in September."
The coach added that this year the Trojans are using Catapult, a GPS tracking system, which he implied would help give them a better gauge on managing Jackson and their other athletes’ workload. Catapult’s clients range from the San Antonio Spurs and Golden State Warriors to the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, and even Baylor and Oregon — the most up-tempo teams in college football.
Before Catapult can provide a coaching staff a gauge on its players, the school needs to get a gauge on Catapult first.
"It won’t tell how much a guy can hold up," said Erik Korem, Kentucky’s high-performance coordinator. "It’ll tell you what he did on the field. It’s like a dashboard for your car, showing how many miles you’ve driven and RPMs. The art is knowing what the player can handle."
Korem, a former Texas A&M linebacker, has been a pioneer in implementing the cutting-edge sports science technology into the college football world. He learned about the athlete tracking system while overseas studying Aussie rules football. At the time he was on staff at Florida State and persuaded Jimbo Fisher to try it with the ‘Noles football team. The upshot: the ‘Noles reduced soft-tissue injuries by 90 percent in 2012. Mark Stoops, the former FSU defensive coordinator, was such a believer, he brought Korem with him to UK after he got the head coaching job.
Korem has four full seasons of data to help him grasp what Catapult gathers on his athletes. "At Florida State, one receiver ran 48 miles during training camp," he said. "I was able to show coach Fisher that we’re doing too much work."
Jackson said there was never a time last season when he felt exhausted. The USC training staff gave him and his teammates the Catapult system this summer "to see how we accelerate and decelerate.
"[Trojans strength coach Ivan Lewis] said my numbers are rare. I don’t even know what that means."
Jackson knows Sarkisian will try not to overextend him. But the 19-year-old said he will still push to get more work on offense. Sort of. "The way I’m pushing it is keep making plays on both sides of the ball."
As for his goals for 2015, Jackson didn’t hesitate long to answer:
"Do freakish things that people haven’t seen before."