Whenever Michael Jackson needs to dig deep to work through the soreness and fatigue on the football field, he is reminded of the daily sacrifices his uncle made for his family.
“My uncle would have to wake up at five-thirty in the morning and drive thirty minutes to be at work at six o’clock, to go work at a little warehouse at a job he hated,” Jackson recalled. “Just hearing ‘five-thirty’ in my head, it gives me that burst of energy. You know, your uncle just woke up this morning at five-thirty, to go to a job he doesn’t want to, to work overtime to provide for his kids and have a few extra dollars to do something on the weekend.”
Growing up in a single-parent household with his mother and sister in Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson witnessed the admirable sacrifices his mother made to provide a better life for her children.
In addition to balancing work and raising two children, Jackson’s mother took on the arduous task of pursuing her Master’s Degree from the University of Alabama — and graduated with a 4.0 GPA.
“On a typical day, she would wake us up, get us dressed, drop us off at school, go to work — then drive an hour or two, to go to the University of Alabama for night school,” Jackson explained. “Then, she’d get out of class, sleep on her brother’s couch in Tuscaloosa, wake up the next day — and be back in time to pick us up from my grandparents’ house and take us to school.”
A star at Spain Park High School in Birmingham, Alabama, Jackson was determined to step outside his comfort zone, and leave his home state of Alabama to play college football. Despite receiving offers from the likes of Minnesota, Nebraska and Cincinnati — the four-star recruit committed to the University of Miami on Oct. 29, 2014.
“I really loved the campus — it’s Miami, so it’s nice weather,” Jackson said. “I have a little family down there, so just in case something drastic happens, I had someone I could call. I’m far away enough from Alabama, where I can feel like a man and handle stuff on my own — understand how to wash clothes, know when I need to get my oil changed, all basic things you have to do in adulthood.”
In a loaded secondary that featured Rayshawn Jenkins, Deon Bush, Corn Elder, Artie Burns and Tracy Howard, Jackson played sparsely as a freshman despite playing in all 13 games. The majority of his playing time came on special teams, where he recorded four stops on the season.
Though he made encouraging strides during spring ball and camp, Jackson’s sophomore campaign yielded similar results. Playing in 12 games, Jackson racked up just seven tackles (two solo), but came away with his first collegiate touchdown, recovering a fumbled punt in the end zone at Notre Dame.
The tides would soon turn for the ascending junior, who was poised to see an increase in snaps, following the graduation of fellow defensive backs Artie Burns, Deon Bush and Tracy Howard.
After coming up with his first career interception against Florida State in the fourth week of the season, Jackson put together his best performance two weeks later against Syracuse.
The Monday leading up to the game, Jackson found out he was having a son, and was eager to get the practice week started. Oddly enough, Jackson struggled mightily in practice that week, working on a specific technique to combat the way the Syracuse receivers released off the line. By the time Thursday rolled around, Jackson had a firm grasp on the technique — and turned in a two interception performance against Syracuse.
“Before every game, me and the safety Redwine would sit there and talk about our celebrations — what we’re going to do if we get the turnover chain. I had a son on the way, so I told him ‘I’m gonna rock the baby.’ I got the pick, and as I’m running to the sideline, I’m rocking the baby. I put the chain on and stand up on the bleachers, rocking the baby, saying ‘It’s a boy!’”
“My second interception, I remember I looked at the camera, and I said ‘two-times’, for two picks,” Jackson explained. “My son was close to being born, and his name was Michael Jackson, Jr., but I didn’t want to call him junior — I wanted something unique. I think I was scrolling on Instagram, and I came across the video — and I decided to call him ‘Two-Time.’ That’s how he got his nickname.”
In what has quickly become one of college football’s most iconic traditions, Miami’s turnover chain has taken the sports world by storm:
“The first person that got the turnover chain was Malek Young,” Jackson explained. “When we saw it in the hotel the day of the game, we didn’t think it would blow up like that. I vividly remember, once Malek got that turnover, I saw it on Instagram and Twitter for like two straight weeks. It’s funny because the year before, we didn’t cause that many turnovers. That year , we were like top five in the country in turnovers. People that don’t strip the ball are trying to strip the ball. If there’s a fumble — you’re trying to fight everybody on the field to get the ball. It showed that Miami swag, because coach Diaz came up with it — and he’s from Miami.”
The fact that he was a key cog on the Hurricanes team that initiated the movement was not lost on Jackson, who got to wear the chain four times during his junior season:
“You’re telling me, I can make a play, and then go put on a big Cuban link chain?” Jackson continued. “Like, most coaches don’t want you to do that, but Coach Diaz loved it. His biggest thing is, it brings energy, it’s gonna get the fans more involved.”
Jackson started 10 of 13 games at cornerback and was a key component on one of college football’s most feared secondaries. His breakout junior campaign included 43 tackles (34 solo), four interceptions, three tackles for loss, one sack and five pass breakups. The Birmingham native parlayed his awe-inspiring season into second-team All-ACC honors.
Jackson returned for his senior season and totaled 42 tackles (25 solo), 3.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and six pass breakups — on his way to earning All-ACC Honorable Mention status.
On the heels of a quietly impressive senior season, Jackson received an invite to compete in the East-West Shrine Game in St. Petersburg, Florida.
At 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Jackson set himself apart from every cornerback in attendance. The hulking corner imposed his will at the line of scrimmage, re-routing receivers off the ball and consistently challenging the catch-point.
The former Hurricane proved his versatility to the scouts and team personnel in attendance, playing off-man coverage for the first time since high school and guarding receivers from the slot — something he hadn’t previously done at any level throughout his football career.
Unfortunately, Jackson’s week was cut short after he developed tendonitis in his left knee. With no prior history of knee injuries, his agent and team doctors advised the rising star to shut it down and focus on preparing for the NFL Combine in Indianapolis.
Possessing a combination of size, speed and athleticism, Jackson has the makings of a rookie who is ready to make an immediate impact. Whether he’s playing the boundary, nickel, safety or linebacker — Jackson is up for any challenge:
“I’m a football player,” Jackson said. “I can’t say I’m a cover corner, that doesn’t work anymore — those days are over with. You have to really be able to be physical.”
Fortunate to grow up around inspirational role models who made sacrifices to ensure a better life for their family, there may not be a single player in Indianapolis who is better equipped to step into the limelight than Michael Jackson.
If you happen to notice a sudden burst of energy when it’s his turn to run the drills, just assume ‘five-thirty’ is on his mind.