Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Cliff Grassmick / Staff Photographer
Colorado’s Jaylon Jackson reached out and snagged a pass thrown by Tyler Lytle, taking it to the end zone for a touchdown.
“I was like, ‘Oh man, I’ve still got it,'” Jackson said with a smile. “That felt good. It was a confidence boost.”
Sure, the play came in a 7-on-7 drill during a player-led practice over the summer, but for Jackson, it was a victory he very much needed.
A redshirt freshman receiver, Jackson has battled back from yet another devastating injury to keep his football dreams alive. After playing just one game in the last three seasons because of injuries, Jackson came into fall camp, which began Thursday, healthy and ready to compete for playing time.
“I feel really good,” Jackson said. “My body is starting to come back, my legs and upper body.
“I feel like I’m confident because I know I’ve been grinding and working out. I’ve been working out with Juwann (Winfree) and KD (Nixon), doing extra stuff on the side. I’m ready to just put it out on the field; put it in the game, in practice. I’m really interested to get back on the field.”
After flashing his exceptional talent as a freshman and sophomore at Cedar Hill (Texas) High School, Jackson tore the ACL in his right knee the spring before his junior season. He returned in time for the Longhorns’ playoff game, running three times and catching three passes in a 37-33 loss.
The next spring, he re-tore his right ACL and missed his entire senior season.
Rated a three-star prospect, Jackson was already committed to CU when he re-injured his knee, and was grateful the Buffs and co-offensive coordinator/receivers coach Darrin Chiaverini continued to believe in him.
“A lot of schools don’t always honor their offer when a kid goes through injuries like that, especially two years in a row,” Jackson said. “I was really thankful for that. I talked to coach Chev a lot, talked to (head coach Mike MacIntyre) a lot, and I was really thankful that they stayed in my corner during that process.”
Jackson enrolled early at CU in January of 2017 and was doing well until the first scrimmage of fall camp last August. He already had a couple of catches during the scrimmage when he caught a short pass and got tackled as he turned up field.
“The (defensive back) came down and tackled me and my ankle got rolled up underneath him,” Jackson said. “That’s all she wrote after that.
“At first I was, ‘Oh, I’m glad it’s not my ACL.’ Then I was like, ‘Oh geez, it stills seems like it’s going be a pretty bad injury.'”
Jackson suffered a broken fibula and dislocated ankle. Once again, he was out for the season.
“It was very frustrating, not being able to play the game for three years,” he said. “I think that was hard, but it took dedication and my family being there in my corner and coaches in my corner and teammates, as well. I feel like they really helped me get through a lot of the stuff.”
Knowing he still potentially has four years of college football ahead of him, Jackson said he never really entertained thoughts of giving up the game.
“I just have to grind again and get back on the field,” he said. “I’ve been through this before and it’s nothing that can stop me.”
At 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, Jackson has put on 20 pounds of muscle and reduced his body fat since arriving at CU. His ACL and the muscles around it are stronger, his ankle is feeling good, and Jackson could help the Buffs as a slot receiver or punt/kick returner this season.
“If he gets back out there and gets going like he can, he’s an athletic young man that can help us and make plays and be able to help us on special teams, not only as maybe a returner, but as a cover guy,” MacIntyre said.
“One thing about Jaylon, he’s got that big smile on his face no matter what he’s going through. He’s an uplifting-type person around our building.”
Nothing would lift Jackson’s spirits more than getting on the field on game day, though. Regardless of his role this season, Jackson is looking forward to being in uniform and taking the field with his teammates.
“That’s going to be big,” he said. “I’m going to be really happy and I feel like my family is going to be really happy, too. I’ve been able to overcome injuries for three years straight, big time injuries, and some people don’t always come back to the game.
“This is what I love to do. It’s a matter of time for me.”