• Player Card: Charles Jackson
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LINCOLN — Charles Jackson was set to wear No. 18. His name was printed in Nebraska's football media guide. His flight out of Houston was booked. He and his family had already celebrated the ascension into life's next chapter.
Then an NU official called with a message from the NCAA.
He wasn't eligible.
“A crushing blow,” said Jackson's father, Richard Parker. “It hit all of us.”
Jackson still tiptoes around the specifics, as if he's intentionally blotted out those few weeks when he waited for an appeal hearing. It's still a touchy subject 10 months later, even now that he's officially cleared to enroll at Nebraska and will arrive on campus next week.
Jackson admits that his quest to meet the NCAA's initial eligibility standards took a year longer than it should have. Those close to him feel he may have been unfairly singled out.
But that's the past. The 5-foot-10 cornerback out of Spring, Texas, has tried to look forward since that late-summer setback last year. Maybe, he says, it was God's plan — because he sees a silver lining.
“I try to look at it as a positive,” Jackson said in a recent phone interview. “I was still productive. I felt like I got a lot better and a lot more mature because of it.”
Jackson hired a trainer a few weeks ago, just to make sure he'd be in good shape for Nebraska's summer strength and conditioning program.
He'd already been working out three times a day during the week. Up as early as 5 a.m. sometimes, just for a wake-up run. Then the gym, where he occasionally mimicked routines off YouTube.
Jackson took friends over to his high school, Klein Collins, to play catch, run routes, work on drills. Klein Collins coach Drew Svoboda said the team buses would pull out of the school lot for Friday night road trips, and he'd spot Jackson sprinting around on the field.
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The sprinklers came on a lot, Jackson said. “I'm not sure I was supposed to be out there.”
The rest of his free time was spent studying. He took the ACT and SAT so many times that he says he's not certain of the exact figure.
“I have to do what I have to do to get where I want to be,” Jackson said. “It's just self-motivation. You've got to just have a hungry attitude.”
That mind-set was missing early in his high school career. Jackson's made it a point to share that with younger kids.
The summer before his senior year, Jackson took six courses to raise his GPA. Two per day. Four-hour sessions, starting at 7:30 a.m. Other Klein Collins players who sat in the same classes at the Houston Learning Academy, a private school, are playing college football now, Svoboda said.
But for Jackson, the NCAA Eligibility Center didn't count those classes — and it took nearly a full year before Jackson was informed and his petition for enrollment denied.
Jackson and his family demanded answers. They didn't get any.
An NCAA representative eventually told Parker to stop calling. File complaints through Nebraska instead.
“That's the one thing that Charles will have in his mind forever: Never, ever let anyone dictate what's done in your life,” Parker said. “Have as much control of what goes on in your life as possible.”
Jackson's been in control since July.
He exceeded the SAT score he'd been targeting on two separate occasions this winter. Friends helped him study, but he rededicated himself. “I put my heart into it.”
He never wanted to go to a junior college, even though there were coaches who called. He never wanted to reopen his recruitment, either — Texas Tech, Oklahoma State, USC and Arkansas were among the schools that showed interest last fall.
He kept in contact with coach Bo Pelini and assistant John Papuchis. One call a week, per NCAA rules.
He's struck up a friendship with incoming freshman linebacker Michael Rose. A former high school teammate, David Santos, is a redshirt freshman linebacker.
Jackson hopes his athleticism can provide a boost for the Huskers. The former U.S. Army All-America game participant was a top 10 cornerback among the nation's 2011 prospects, according to most recruiting services.
Jackson thinks he's even better now, in more ways than one.
“I wouldn't say I was lucky, because I worked hard,” he said. “But not everyone gets a (second chance). My case was kind of special because I got another shot.”
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