Sept. 30, 2011
BY MATT MAGILL
Very few athletes get to realize their dream of playing college football, much less at their favorite school. Malik Jackson had that chance -- and he left it behind.
"I hated USC when I was first going to high school because they won a lot; I wanted to be a part of another team," said Jackson, who is from the Los Angeles suburb of Northridge. "But I wanted to stay in California to be close to my mom. USC ended up being my dream school."
Jackson's dream wound up being a nightmare of constant changes among the coaching staff, particularly at his own position.
"I would get a new D-line coach year after year after year," he said. "And I would have to start over with the twos (second string). Every year I was supposed to be the next guy. I grew tired of having to reestablish myself for a new coach. I felt like it was time for a change."
Jackson didn't find a fit at USC, but he quickly adapted--and flourished-- in a new role at Tennessee. He transferred to the Vols in the summer of 2010 and was allowed to play immediately because the Trojans were under NCAA probation.
"It was hard; it was my first time being a leader," Jackson said. "They needed a guy who could come in and was seasoned. I just kind of took my time to work into it and it worked out."
But it didn't take long for Jackson to once again be faced with change, this time on the field.
"(The coaching staff) asked me at the beginning of the season if I wanted to change positions and I said no, that I didn't want to move inside to tackle," he said. "But after the LSU game, we needed it and we were lacking so I gave it a try. I ended up doing pretty well. Most of the changes were mental."
Jackson's move to defensive tackle helped the Vols to four straight regular season wins and earned him an All-SEC selection. He said the move shows his versatility.
In April, Jackson hopes NFL general managers recognize that skill set and give him a chance. But Jackson isn't finished yet at Tennessee.
"Hopefully I can go on to that next stage, but that's still far off," he said. "We've still got games to win this this season."
Jackson didn't fit at his hometown USC. Moving to defensive tackle wasn't ideal, and he might not make it in the NFL.
But Malik Jackson finally found the perfect match. He fit at Tennessee.