Before Monday, deadline day to declare for the NFL draft, University of Southern California cornerback and Belleville native Adoree' Jackson had revealed little about his decision.
His Twitter account had become fodder for amateur sleuths.
Jackson tweeted often about attending class when the semester began, indicating perhaps that he’d be back for his senior year. Then he tweeted cryptically about how he’d be treated if he left early, hinting that he was considering such a move.
Eventually, Jackson caught on and cautioned his followers not to read too much into anything he posted. He’d make an official announcement in time.
On Monday, he did. Jackson announced on Twitter that he would enter the NFL draft, forgoing his senior season at USC.
Jackson grew up on High Street in Belleville, graduated from Westhaven Elementary and Central Junior High and, for a year, played football at Belleville East. He left Belleville after his freshman year, encouraged by his older sister and her husband to come to California, face better competition and take advantage of athletic and educational opportunity at Serra High School.
Leaving wasn’t easy, he has said. On game days, he represents his hometown with eye black outlining “618,” the metro-east area code.
There’s little doubt his move west paid off. Serra High School produced many USC players, such as All-American wide receivers Robert Woods and Marquise Lee.
Jackson, this season’s Jim Thorpe Award winner for the nation’s best defensive back, is expected to be a high-round pick in this year’s NFL draft, which begins April 27.
“I made the best decision of my life when I chose to come to USC,” Jackson posted. “And finishing it off with a Rose Bowl win is one of the best ways I could have ever hoped for it to end.”
The decision represents a significant loss for USC, which, after its Rose Bowl victory, was expected to compete for a spot in the College Football Playoff next season.
Jackson’s absence will be difficult to fill on special teams. He had four return touchdowns last season: two on kickoffs and two on punts.
USC’s game against Notre Dame best captured his rare ability to change games. The contest was disjointed early, and USC struggled to gain control. Then Jackson took over. He scored on a punt return. He scored on a swing pass on offense. Then he scored on a kickoff return, finishing with a flourish when he leaped the kicker along the sideline.
Jackson spent a long time contemplating his decision. One part of his calculation may have been determining whether NFL evaluators viewed him as a bona-fide cornerback option or just a return specialist. Despite winning the Thorpe Award, Jackson had lapses as a cornerback. He gave up seven touchdowns last season and often relied on his speed to make up for small coverage mistakes.
The Rose Bowl game showed one of the perils of staying. Jackson nearly scored after an offensive reception, intercepted a pass on defense and busted several returns to the verge of big gains.
But in the third quarter, Jackson was tackled awkwardly, and clutched his leg. Eventually, he hobbled off with an ankle injury. He contemplated returning to the game but the injury showed that even those as gifted as Jackson are not invulnerable to football’s risks.
“After the Rose Bowl, I had many thoughts running through my head,” Jackson wrote. “What was on my mind was that nothing is guaranteed in life and to take advantage of every opportunity that is put in front of you.”