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Jackson Energized By Adventurous Offseason
Jackson Energized by Adventurous Offseason
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
By Nick Wagoner
Lying on an operating table following back surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in early April, Steven Jackson couldn’t help but let his mind drift to the idea of football mortality.
In his six years in the NFL, Jackson had never suffered an injury serious enough that he had to undergo offseason surgery let alone feel any pain of any kind that extended beyond a normal three to four week rest period in January.
But for the first time, Jackson was going to have an offseason quite different from any of his previous ones.
It was then and there that Jackson decided to cut it loose and take a different approach to how he’d spend his summer vacation.
“I had uncertainty in my health for the majority of the offseason and was not really enjoying myself,” Jackson said. “It allowed me to really think about the NFL and sometimes you think you can play this game forever. It was a reality check, one that I was probably taking for granted because I have always been healthy for the most part. This time I had to rehab, go through the operation. I was constantly working and not enjoying myself in my down time. Once the back was feeling good and I was feeling physically fit, I wanted to take advantage of my opportunities to enjoy myself.”
OUTSIDE THE LINES
Each offseason, Jackson makes it a point to try to see at least one new country, if not more. Long before the surgery, Jackson had already planned to venture to South Africa for the 2010 World Cup.
In addition to South Africa, he’d also planned to make stops in Botswana, Namibia and Zambia. Along the way, Jackson initially figured he’d see the historical sites, tour the land and sample the local food.
At some point during the back issues, Jackson morphed into the Vinnie Chase character from Entourage who used a back injury of his own to develop a desire for thrill seeking adventures.
So Jackson called his travel agent and added shark diving, three safaris and sand dune hikes to his itinerary.
“I just kind of wanted to go into overcoming fears and living outside the lines and boundaries,” Jackson said. “You hear people all the time say that your mind traps you in fear. I kind of tried to step outside of myself and mimic somewhat of a daredevil. This year, I told my travel agent ‘let’s walk on the wild side a little bit.’”
Of all of the heart pounding exploits on his trip, it was the first one that really set the tone.
On his first day in Cape Town, Jackson hopped on a boat and was ferried to an area known as Seal Island, where great white sharks are known to congregate in large groups.
After a bit of trepidation, Jackson climbed into a cage, was hooked up to an oxygen tank and was lowered 10 feet into the water. For the next 20 minutes, Jackson found himself surrounded by one of the world’s most notorious predators. And for as intimidating as the sharks, including an 18-footer, were up close, it was when they were nowhere to be found that Jackson found himself the most intimidated.
“The scariest part of it is when he disappears and you lose sight of him in the water,” Jackson said. “When he’s actually swimming in front of you he’s kind of lethargic, his tail swings back and forth slowly. You are kind of just in awe when you look at him. You forget time and everything just moves really slow motion. Then when he disappears it’s like a thousand miles per hour.”
When Jackson wasn’t challenging himself to step outside his comfort zone, he was busy finding ways to deepen his perspective of the world in more ways than one.
Growing up in a solid, middle class neighborhood in Las Vegas, Jackson rarely wanted anything and playing sports left little room to understand many of the struggles his parents had gone through to put the family in such a secure position.
Steve and Brenda Jackson grew up in Warren, Arkansas, where segregation was still the order of the day and integration was still a ways off.
Jackson heard the stories of his parents growing up but never had the chance to wrap his mind around what those tales meant; at least not until he went to South Africa.
In taking in the sites, Jackson couldn’t help but feel the remnants of apartheid still lingering even though it “ended” in 1994.
“With it still being so fresh that you can actually kind of see the segregation that is still there,” Jackson said. “It’s not amongst the younger people but more the older generation, people that are 50 or 60 years old. You can still see that. Although they have made huge strides and become a democracy and living together, you can still see the scars of apartheid on them. Now, I can better understand some of their stories. It kind of made sense to me seeing it first hand.”
Upon his return to the United States, Jackson couldn’t help but find himself energized to get back to work.
In South Africa, Jackson attended three World Cup games, including the United States’ controversial 2-2 tie against Slovenia. Watching the world’s best players at the pinnacle of their sport did nothing but fuel Jackson’s already blazing fire further.
“Once I got back, it helped me renew my appreciation for my job,” Jackson said. “It allowed me to actually watch high level performance of other athletes. It inspired me to want to get to that level and help me and my teammates be a part of something that huge. Our part of it is the Super Bowl and the playoffs. That’s what relates to the experience I had there. To see the excitement and unity of the country and the fans for a team and enthusiasm for a sport, it actually fed my hunger to get back to training and training hard.”
Beyond his newfound understanding of the world as a whole and his own place in it, Jackson was ready to attack his preparation for the 2010 season with more intensity than ever.
Because he was coming off back surgery, Jackson adjusted his diet to add more healthy proteins and alter his workout regiment so that he could emphasize strengthening his back to take on the pounding that a feature back in the NFL is certain to take.
Previously, Jackson had run twice a day and lifted weights once. He decided to flip that in an effort to build up additional back strength.
“I wanted to make sure that not only can I wipe away the doubts in my head but actually believe I can play at the same level and the same intensity that I had before,” Jackson said.
Jackson didn’t just spend his summer working out to make his body stronger, he also found himself working to increase his mental workload so as to be a better leader.
A routinely voracious reader, Jackson read plenty of works from former South African President Nelson Mandela. In his readings, Jackson came to the realization that though his advancements made in terms of leadership were great, he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be yet.
“The one thing I learned is that you can’t lead the same way all the time,” Jackson said. “You have to learn who your followers are, learn the group you are leading and then go about it in a way that relates to them.
“He has an analogy where you have a herd of sheep: you have to identify the leaders of the group. Allow them to lead and you lead them from the back in the direction you want them to go. Then there's instances where you have to lead from the front. You may have to take a stand and show guys that you. will put your neck on the line and show that you are willing to sacrifice yourself for a cause. There are two different extremes. One guy you might have to get out in front and show them this is how you work. Where another guy has the ambition and talent and you have to guide him from the back and not discourage him. I am learning those things. I am applying those things. I haven’t perfected them. That’s going to take more time but I definitely think I am making strides in the right direction.”
And though he says his leadership skills haven’t been fully developed yet, his younger teammates can’t help but watch Jackson’s every move and pick his brain every chance they get.
“He helps me immensely,” Chris Ogbonnaya said. “Jack tells me different things to look at pre-snap like going back to Arizona last year, I could tell they were going to do something in a blitz in the game and it allowed me to make a cut, seeing it before it happened. Little stuff like that that can help you get big gains before even touching the ball.”
Jackson’s role on the 2010 Rams hasn’t changed much from what it was in 2009. As it stands, he’s the unquestioned leader and best player on the roster after he put together his second Pro Bowl season in 2009 while leading the NFC in rushing at 1,416 yards despite defenses game planning specifically to stop him every week.
As if any more evidence of Jackson’s value to the team was needed, one need only look at the offense’s first drive in the preseason game against Cleveland. With Jackson healthy and chewing up yards like usual, that unit marched right down a slippery field for a touchdown.
“That’s the kind of boost our team will need,” head coach Steve Spagnuolo said. “That’s who he is. We know he’s one of our best players on our football team, and to have him out there, I think the offensive line feels better about it, I think the quarterbacks do, I mean everybody does. ... When you can hand the ball off to a good back, it makes a difference.”
If things go according to plan, the Rams will be handing the ball off to the most accomplished running back in franchise history at some point during this season.
Jackson currently sits third on the team’s all-time rushing yards list. Entering the season, he needs just 253 yards to pass Marshall Faulk for second on that list and 539 yards to surpass Eric Dickerson as the most decorated rusher in the storied history of Rams’ running backs.
While Jackson prefers to focus on team goals, he does acknowledge that those records have long been on his checklist of things to achieve and hold a special place for him.
“I think these things here now that I can accomplish this year I feel like NOW I can say I have had a successful career,” Jackson said. “That was the first thing before even thinking where I rank in the NFL, first I have to conquer some things within the organization that are huge achievements. To be able to have my name in the rankings with Marshall and Eric Dickerson, now I can legitimately say I want to point to the top 5 in the National Football League but I couldn’t do that coming out of the gate without first establishing myself in this organization.”
There’s no question Jackson has established himself in the organization. And at the rate he’s going, he will go down as one of its all-time greats.
The only question that remains is when that coronation will happen. For his part, Jackson doesn’t believe it will happen anytime soon, but for the first time in his career he’s well aware that day will come.
“Sometimes you live in a fairytale in your head like this thing is not going to end,” Jackson said. “We all hope to have a 20-year career but the reality is very, very few have the chance to play football for that long. You realize the game is violent and that injuries are going to occur. You begin to think now, this thing here is a serious game. I would say it was my first major injury. It didn’t make me panic or feel like things are coming to an end but it makes me appreciate the position that I am in.”
Re: Jackson Energized By Adventurous Offseason
Before Jackson retires, we need to win a Superbowl. He, above everyone else, deserves one.
Re: Jackson Energized By Adventurous Offseason
If our O-line does well and he works a tad bit harder than he did last season. Then maybe, just maybe he can break Eric Dickerson's record and make Chris Johnson's gold grillz look like bronze ones.
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