LINCOLN — Throughout his high school career, Lamar Jackson matched up with the best receiver on the opposing team and tried to shut him down. More often than not, Jackson said, he did.
His highlight film also shows that the incoming Nebraska cornerback was stout against the run, colliding with ball carriers in the hole or taking out their legs behind the line of scrimmage on sweeps. The 6-foot-3, 203-pound Jackson covers ground and engulfs ball carriers like a hungry spider, closing quick and latching on.
So it makes sense that Jackson — the highest-rated recruit in NU’s 2016 class — will play boundary corner, where he’ll have more responsibility in stopping the run. Jackson will learn from junior Joshua Kalu, who has started 15 games and has four interceptions.
“I’m going to be behind Joshua until I pick up the system, and I just plan on putting pressure on him and making sure all the guys feel the pressure,” Jackson said. “I just want to go out and compete and get on the field.”
Even if, come Sept. 3, Kalu is the top dog at corner — which I expect him to be — strong competition should serve Nebraska. Tension that comes from stud freshmen pushing the older veterans makes teams better.
“I want to put myself in a situation where I make it hard for the coaches not to play me and I master all my assignments the best I can,” Jackson said.
Jackson shouldn’t expect any less, as the Huskers’ secondary depth — especially at corner — is iffy. Kalu and Chris Jones are the likely starters at corner, and redshirt freshman Eric Lee will push for major playing time this fall. So will Jackson. Because Kalu is gifted enough to cover slot receivers, he could slide inside when offenses go to four wideouts while Jackson or Lee plays outside.
A top-100 national recruit shouldn’t be a wait-and-see guy. At Nebraska, there have been hits and misses in last 15 years.
Rivals and Scout online databases go back to 2002. ESPN’s goes back to 2006. 247Sports started in 2010. Since then, Nebraska has had 21 top-100 high school recruits, according to one or more of the four services. Jackson, quarterback Patrick O’Brien and guard John Raridon are Nos. 19, 20 and 21, respectively.
Of that 21:
» Seven (linebacker Phillip Dillard, cornerback Cortney Grixby, running back Marlon Lucky, offensive tackle Lydon Murtha, wideout Niles Paul, defensive tackle Baker Steinkuhler and defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh) started more than 10 games. Of that group, two — Paul and Suh — were first-team all-conference, both in the Big 12. Suh was an All-American. Four of the seven (Dillard, Murtha, Paul and Suh) spent more than one season in the NFL.
» Six (quarterback Cody Green; running backs Aaron Green, Braylon Heard, David Horne and Leon Jackson; offensive tackle Tyler Moore) transferred from Nebraska. Other than Aaron Green, who signed a 2016 free agent deal with the Packers, none are in the NFL. Notably, while Aaron Green and Heard transferred, the guy who beat both out, Ameer Abdullah, is one of the best players in school history.
» Seven (guard Jalin Barnett, offensive lineman Tanner Farmer, Lamar Jackson, cornerback Charles Jackson, running back Terrell Newby, O’Brien and Raridon) are still at Nebraska.
That’s 20, and that leaves wideout Jamal Turner, who just exhausted his eligibility. Clearly talented, Turner battled injuries and worked through changes in coaches, but he ultimately had a decent career — until you view it through the prism of him being a top-100 recruit.
Like Lamar Jackson, Turner was the best player on his youth teams, and thus played quarterback. Unlike Turner, and perhaps this is crucial, Jackson started concentrating much more on playing defense a few years into high school.
“It was hard for me to miss quarterback because, as soon as I moved to DB, I started getting offers and stuff like that,” Jackson said. “I made myself the best DB I could be.”
Nebraska wasn’t on his radar, he said, when he started getting those offers. But secondary coach Brian Stewart, who landed the Husker job after Charlton Warren backed out to take a job at North Carolina, successfully persuaded Jackson to look closer at the Huskers. When he took his visit, and warmed to Nebraska’s vision for his career, he picked NU over USC.
“The best decision I could have made,” Jackson said.
The Elk Grove (California) native, who played some Wildcat quarterback for Franklin High School, wouldn’t eventually mind taking some snaps on offense at wideout. Nebraska is loaded at wideout for 2016, but after Alonzo Moore, Brandon Reilly and Jordan Westerkamp graduate after this season, Jackson, who got offers to play offense, could see himself pulling double duty. He said receivers coach Keith Williams has already planted the idea in his head.
“Coach Dub already told me that, after my freshman year, once I get acquainted with things, he’ll throw me in there on offense and see what I can do out there,” Jackson said.
As Jackson and the rest of the new players report — joining O’Brien and Derrion Grim — it’s all in front of him. He’s aware of the expectations that surround him. They’re big, and Jackson embraces it.
“They expect me to come in and help — make an impact — and live up to the hype, to help Nebraska be a better football team,” Jackson said. “I don’t feel any pressure yet. When I go out there, I feel like I can compete with the best.”
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