Triple Threat – Cal Wide Receivers Jackson, Hawkins and Jordan Form the Pac-10’s Most Feared Receiving Corps

By Steffi Chan, Steven Dunst and Gerald Nicdao, Daily Cal Staff Writers This story was originally published in the Daily Californian on Saturday, November 10, 2007.

Reprinted by permission [And shortened].

From His Days at Long Beach Poly, Junior Wideout DeSean Jackson Has Always Showcased His Flair

At the mention of DeSean Jackson, one particular moment comes to the mind of Long Beach Poly football coach Raul Lara.

And it’s not even a game in which Jackson’s high school team, the Jackrabbits, played.

It’s Jan. 15, 2005, and Jackson is standing on the field of the Alamo Dome in San Antonio, Texas.

It’s the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, and Jackson, then a high school senior, knows that he’s surrounded by the 79 most talented players in the country. It’s the kind of stage Jackson relishes most.

Under the watchful gaze of spectators from all over the nation, Jackson knows he has the capability to steal the show. He goes deep for his first reception of the game. Once he reaches the 6-yard line, he knows it’s as good as a touchdown.

But not quite.

“DeSean tried to dive into the end zone from the 6-yard line and did a somersault and didn’t make it!” says Lara, chuckling. “He fumbled the ball at the 1-yard line and the other team recovered it, and I’m like, DeSean, what are you doing? I was in the stands and everybody was turning around saying `Coach, you let him do that?'”

Looking back, Lara laughs now because he can still be proud of his former star receiver, somersault and all. Jackson salvaged his national debut with a seven-reception, 141-yard performance–plus a 45-yard touchdown pass–to win the MVP award in the West’s 35-3 victory.

“After that he had a fantastic game and of course no one had anything to say,” says Lara. “Thank God he did because I would’ve been teased all the way home!”

Such a performance–flashy, explosive, and downright incredible–sums up the player Jackson has become as a starting wideout on the Cal football team.

Three years later, and Jackson is not any less dynamic. Now people in the stands turn around mostly to gape at the wide receiver’s NFL-caliber abilities.

Against Tennessee this year, Jackson fielded a punt at the 23-yard line. The Vols might as well have been playing “NCAA 08,” helpless as Jackson danced from one sideline to the other, making one defender miss by simply jumping backwards as if he’d hit the R1 button on a PlayStation controller. Four fallen defenders and 77 yards later, Cal had six more points on the board.

It is no mystery why Lara, who has coached the likes of wide receivers Kareem Kelly and Sammy Parker, cites Jackson as one of his favorite players in his 18 years at the helm of the Long Beach Poly program.

“That dude is amazing,” said fellow wideout Robert Jordan. “That jump-back move he made in the punt return–he’s not human. I’m going to watch it again right now in the film room as a matter of fact. Funny part about it is–he wasn’t running fast at all.”

His explosiveness and elusiveness that teammates and coaches cite as his greatest qualities have made him stand out among the nation’s best. It is no wonder that the spotlight is constantly on him. Then again, Jackson wouldn’t have it any other way.

“One thing he told me was he wanted to be in the spotlight,” says Lara about his discussion with Jackson on where to commit for college. “I remember telling him, `DeSean, it doesn’t matter where you go because wherever you go, you’re going to excel and be in the spotlight.’ DeSean likes the spotlight, there’s no ifs or buts.”

So it’s no coincidence that his most electric performances of the year–his 77-yard punt return against Tennessee, 161 yards and two touchdowns against Oregon, and 136 yards and two scores against UCLA–have come when the game has been broadcast on national television.

“I definitely know when it’s on T.V.,” says Jackson. “When it’s on T.V. the whole world watches, so I definitely try to do the best things possible to come up and make plays, anything I can do out there on the field.

Once upon a time, the cameras didn’t naturally follow the star receiver.

But he craved it just the same.

Former Jackrabbits teammate Hershel Dennis, now a sixth-year running back for USC, remembers Jackson as a wide-eyed ninth-grader who was eager to prove he deserved the attention.

“It’s crazy to see him grown and being up for the Heisman when just a couple years back, he was just a little kid,” says Dennis. “I was a senior, he was a freshman and during that time I was sort of the big man on campus. He was always the one guy you were going to watch play. He was a fast little kid. He’d be like `Watch me do this Hersh!'”

Lara, for one, watches Jackson play nowadays, not fazed by what he sees.

“Pretty much what you see him doing now is the same thing he did with us in high school,” says Lara.

Not everything though.

Last summer, Jackson returned to Long Beach Poly’s Veteran Stadium, but brought with him something extra: an ESPN camera crew. It was a testament to his long list of achievements at Cal–among them, 21 career touchdowns and a nation-leading six punt returns for a touchdown.

So Lara could only smile when he saw his former star doing somersaults once again in front of the ESPN cameras. Knowing Jackson, Lara would have expected nothing less.