Jets’ Calvin Jackson Jr. Following late dad’s footsteps to the NFL

A strange thing happened after Calvin Jackson Jr. dedicated his final season at Washington State to the memory of his father.

Calvin Jackson Sr., a former Miami Dolphins defensive back, died unexpectedly at age 48 on an undisclosed illness on March 15, 2021. And in his son’s final season, Jackson avoided injury for the first time in years, across-the-board. career-highs of 66 catches for 987 yards and seven touchdowns, and landed on the NFL radar, eventually inking an undrafted free-agent deal with the Jets this May.

“After the last game, I sat on the field and I was like, ‘Dang, this really just happened because of him,'” Jackson told The Post. “Going into games knowing he was watching and I have his support always uplifted and I want to play even harder.”

It seemed like a familiar destination to Jackson Sr.’s guidance. The Dolphins – who remained the family’s favorite team after Jackson Sr.’s career ended in 1999 – held a private workout for the younger Jackson before the April draft and invited him to rookie minicamp after a tryout.

Calvin Jackson Jr. and Calvin Jackson Sr.
Courtesy of Calvin Jackson

Jackson was training for one of his shots when an AFC East rival stepped in. The Jets also invited Jackson to try out – his minicamp was held a week ago – and signed him to a contract before he could leave the building.

“When the Dolphins first called, I was like, ‘This is probably meant to be,'” Jackson said. “That’s where my dad played and it would’ve been great to be closer to home, but I’m happy to be here. I ‘m going to make the most of a great opportunity. “

So far, so good. The 5-foot-9, 193-pound slot receiver rotated with the OTAs and caught punts during a second-team offense while waving a broom to create distraction at his rookie minicamp.

“Not getting a call on draft day lowered me down a little bit,” Jackson said, “but I used that as fuel to the fire.”

Jackson moved in with his father at 12 and the years that followed were an education in football.

A photo of the elder Jackson decking rookie Peyton Manning – the first of 303 sacks in the Hall of Fame quarterback’s career – hung in the living room. His dad hung on the footballs from all five of his interceptions, and Jackson could visualize framing his first NFL touchdown catch. They put their heads together to list season goals for each training camp.

The father and son also watched old game tapes together – plenty of Jets-Dolphins battles included – and “Pops” liked to joke that, “If I was in my prime, I’d lock you down one-on-one.”

Steelers wide receiver Andre Hastings (88) catches a long pass as Dolphins cornerback Calvin Jackson tries to defend during third quarter action at Pro Player Stadium in Miami Monday, Nov.  25, 1996.
Steelers wide receiver Andre Hastings (88) catches a long pass as Dolphins cornerback Calvin Jackson tries to defend.
AP

“He was a fan, but he was my biggest hater as well,” Jackson said. “He used to talk to me before and after every game to make sure I had my head straight. If I had a decent game, it was like, ‘Yeah, you did well, but you didn’t do this or that.’ He would say, ‘You are far from this goal. Now you have to do this to get there. ‘ The support that he had for paid dividends. I cherish those moments when I look back. “

When Jackson joined the Jets, he found an unlikely connection to special teams coordinator Brant Boyer, who was part of the same Dolphins rookie class as Jackson’s dad in 1994.

“I’ll tell you what: When you are old is when you played with his dad,” Boyer quipped. “He’s a heck of a kid, and he’s done a really good job. His dad worked his butt off and was an awesome teammate. “

Calvin Jackson Jr.  The catches a pass during the minicamp with the Jets.
Calvin Jackson Jr. The catches a pass during the minicamp with the Jets.
New York Jets

The Jacksons play different positions … on different sides of the ball … but they share two important skills: quickness in-and-out breaks and something closer to quantify.

“We play bigger than we are,” Jackson said. “I am not the tallest, I am not the fastest, but any 50/50 ball I believe myself that I will go up and get it no matter who I am because I play bigger than I am, just like my dad. I play with a lot of heart, and I believe he did, too. “

His dad went from undrafted to a 57-game starter. The Jets hope to have uncovered the same hidden gem.

“I’m going to make sure I’m staying in the playbook and doing everything right to the special teams,” Jackson said. “I feel like I’m doing a good job right now, but I need to kick it up a notch come next week [team minicamp] and training camp. I’m going to put my head down and go after it. “

Jackson last heard his father’s voice tragedy two days ago. They traded texts a day later and it took a while to accept reality. He never got to ask if it would be OK to cross rivalry lines, but he already knows the answer.

“I know he’s smiling right now from ear to ear,” Jackson said, “and joking around with his boys about it.”

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