Heisman Trophy or Olympic Gold Medal? USC’s Adoree’ Jackson Is Aiming For Both

Oct 11, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Southern California Trojans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson (2) against the Arizona Wildcats at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports Mark J. Rebilas USA TODAY Sports

It was National Signing Day in February of 2014, and the USC coaching staff had gathered around the TV. Adoree’ Jackson — one of the top high school recruits in the country — was about to commit, and everyone in the room was on pins and needles waiting for his decision.

For USC, Adoree’ wasn’t just any recruit. He was the recruit.

The coaching staff had known about him for years; they’d first heard his name as a sophomore, and followed his progression from little known, under-the-radar star, to one of the biggest high school names in the sport just a few years later.

They made him one of their top priorities and did an in-home visit with both Jackson and his family, explaining how he’d fit in with the program. Work with them for a few years, and he could go down as one of the best ever at ‘SC, they told him.

But by February 5th, 2014, all the hard work was done. The pitches had been made and all USC’s staff could do is sit back, turn on the TV and pray. Pray they’d done enough. Pray that Jackson would become a Trojan.

Finally, in front of a national audience on ESPNU, Jackson made his announcement. He stared into the camera before letting the world in on his decision.  

Adoree Jackson signs with USC on 2014’s National Signing Day.

Gary A. Vasquez USA TODAY Sports

“I will be going to the University of Southern California,” Jackson said.

The coaching room exploded.

After years of admiring Jackson from a distance, and months of doing everything in their power to get him to USC, the Trojans’ coaching staff had their man.

“When he pulled that hat out of the box that said ‘SC we were never more happy,” USC Director of Track and Field Caryl Smith Gilbert said.

Woah, woah, woah, USC Director of Track and Field?

Yup, you read correctly: Director of Track and Field.

Sure, Steve Sarkisian and the USC football staff likely had a similar celebration down the hall, but this story isn’t about the Adoree’ Jackson you know. It isn’t about the star football player, the reigning Pac-12 Defensive Freshman of the Year, and the guy many are projecting as an All-American this fall.

No, this is a story about Adoree’ Jackson and his other sport. His best sport actually: the long jump.

And while the world knows Jackson as a football star, they may have no choice but to get to know him as a track star too.

Because after taking home state championships in high school, and a Pac-12 championship just a few weeks ago in the long jump, Adoree’ Jackson now has his sights set on an NCAA Championship later this week.

And if all goes to plan, well, Adoree’ expects to be on the Olympic podium next summer in Rio de Janeiro.

His coaches believe it can happen.

And the crazy thing is, he might not have to give up football to do it.

*****

To an outsider, Adoree’ Jackson’s story seems too good to be true.

He’s a dual-sport star in the mold of Deion Sanders or Bo Jackson, so good at football that many are projecting him as a franchise-changing cornerback at the next level, but also someone who could be in Rio next summer for track and field as well. And he’s doing it all while juggling coursework at USC, one of the toughest academic schools in the Pac-12. Oh, and in his free time he used to do community service work back at Serra High School in Gardena, California too.

It truly is incredible. Yet for Jackson, the most incredible part isn’t where he is now, but where he came from.

Jackson grew up in Belleville, Illinois, a small town on the Missouri border, just a half hour or so from St. Louis. Jackson was an athlete from birth; at just two-years-old his parents would routinely find him jumping around the house, mimicking dunks he’d seen on the movie “Space Jam” on a Fisher-Price hoop they’d set up for him. Basketball always was Adoree’s favorite sport, although he gravitated towards football as well as he got older.

Then, in the spring of his eighth grade year he decided to give track a serious shot. Sure, he’d never run competitively before, but with AAU basketball season over, he figured, why not?

He clearly made the right decision.

“I won the state championship in hurdles, the 200 and the long jump,” Jackson said recently in an interview on USC’s campus. “That’s when I said, ‘Alright, it’s time to take track more seriously.'”

Jackson did just that, and by his freshman year at Belleville East High School he set the local track world on fire, when he jumped over 23 feet at the state meet. On the football field he’d played running back, and the plan was to move him to quarterback the following season, to maximize his touches and scoring opportunities.

But for all the talent Jackson had, his brother-in-law Jason Keene wondered if he could get the exposure needed at a small school in Illinois. Keene was living with his wife (Jackson’s sister) in California at the time, just a short distance from high school powerhouse Serra High School in Gardena. The school was routinely producing Division I athletes; current Buffalo Bills wide receiver Robert Woods had graduated from the school the year before, and current Jacksonville Jaguars wide receiver Marqise Lee came a year later. Keene wondered if it’d be feasible to get Adoree’ there.

He got his chance to find out just a few weeks later.

At the time, Keene was working at a restaurant where the Serra High track coach, Russell Biggs, routinely visited. And one night, when he overheard Biggs discussing Lee — his star pupil at the time — he decided to interrupt.

“I was sharing a story (about Lee) with a guy at the sports bar,” Biggs said. “Some guy butted in and said ‘Hey, you talking about long jump? My little brother long jumped 23 feet, 11 inches and he’s only a freshman in high school.'”

The comment made Biggs upset. Not only was he interrupted. He was interrupted by a stranger, who was clearly just making stuff up to get his attention.

I’ve been coaching jumpers since the ’90s and I’ve never heard of that, of a freshman jumping that far.

“I stopped the guy, I kind of put my hand up and said ‘Man, you don’t know what you’re talking about,'” Biggs remembered. “‘No freshman, anywhere, is jumping 23 feet, 11 inches. You mean 20 feet, 11 inches.’ And he said no, ’23 feet, 11 inches’ and I kind of dismissed him, went back to my friend and said ‘Man, that guy is crazy.'”

Keene left the table, but undeterred, he eventually came back. When he returned, he came with physical evidence; an Internet printout showing exactly what Jackson was capable of.   

“It said a freshman, in Illinois, Belleville East, had jumped 23 feet, 11 inches,” Biggs said. “So now I stop talking to my friend and turn my attention to the other guy. I’ve been coaching jumpers since the ’90s and I’ve never heard of that, of a freshman jumping that far.”

Biggs and Keene began to talk, wondering how they could get Adoree’ out to California, first to visit, then potentially to live full-time. Biggs saw his window when he found out that Adoree’ was also a football player as well. USC was holding its annual summer camp a few weeks later, and as fate would have it, not only was Jackson a USC fan, his favorite player was Reggie Bush.

Ultimately that’s all Biggs needed to hear, and the plan was put into motion to get Jackson to USC for football camp.

Neither Biggs nor Keene were thinking about Adoree’ as a big-time football star. At the time he stood just 5-foot-7, so the idea of him evolving into a potential All-American cornerback was the last thing on pretty much anyone’s mind.

But in track? The kid had a chance to be a world champion. And Biggs wanted the opportunity to help him get there.

“Keep in mind, I’m not thinking of getting Adoree’ out here for football at that point,” Biggs admitted. “I’m thinking of a phenomenal future in jumping.”

And the funny thing is that Jackson was actually thinking something similar.

Jackson eventually made the decision to move to Los Angeles full-time, knowing that the chance to compete against some of the nation’s best athletes in Southern California, for one of the top high school athletic departments in the country, was too much to pass up.

At the same time, he was also realistic. He was really, really good at track, and still had a suspect (at best) future in football.

Therefore, when he arrived in California, he made a decision: He wasn’t going to play football anymore.

“I didn’t really want to come out here and play football, going into my sophomore year,” Jackson admitted.

However, after talking with his father, Adoree’ decided to return to the gridiron.

In the end, he really had no choice.

“He was really upset that I decided not to play football anymore,” Jackson said. “He thought that that would be my way out, what would get me to college and everything. He was really mad, he tried to whup me. I decided for him to give it one more shot.”

Adoree’ did in fact give football one more shot, and as they say, the rest is history. He already possessed elite speed and athleticism, and when a growth spurt eventually took him up to 5-11, there was little doubt that he could excel in football as well.

By his junior year he had emerged as one of the best football players in Southern California, and by his senior year Jackson was one of the top players in the country, regardless of position.

It was an incredible ascent, especially for a player that the football staff had literally never heard of the day he arrived at his first practice. That would change quickly though, and by the time Jackson left Serra, he was a player unlike any the coaching staff had ever seen.

Even at a school like Serra, that routinely spits out half a dozen Division I prospects a year (USC currently has four Serra players on their roster, with three more coming next spring), Jackson was one of a kind.    

“You’re just talking about a guy, who in every phase of the game is just busy,” said Serra High defensive backs coach Marvin Pollard, a former USC Trojan. “He doesn’t get a water break, literally. He was our kickoff returner, he was our punt returner, he was our punter, he was our defensive back, he was our wide receiver.”

Wait, did you say punter? As in, the guy who punts the ball?

“Yes, he was our punter,” Pollard remembered. “He would fake punts. Adoree’ was the only one who pretty much had a green light to fake punts on fourth and 20. If he saw space, he took two steps and got the first down. He did that on several occasions. It was amazing how a team just wasn’t prepared for that.”

Again, Jackson was as good as they come on the football field. And on the track, he wasn’t a slouch either. He won the California state championship in the long jump as a sophomore, and after an injury-plagued junior year, went on to record the second longest jump of any high schooler in the country his senior year.  

What might be most incredible, however, is that his best jump was never recorded at all. It came at a meet in Arizona, where Adoree’ just about jumped out of the pit… literally.

“They wouldn’t give him that mark because they hadn’t cleaned out that part of the pit,” Biggs said. “He jumped so far out of the clean area, that they didn’t know what to do.”

Biggs made a suggestion.

“I said ‘Let’s make it really easy. Go to where you see an indentation and mark it,'” Biggs remembers saying. “They said ‘Well, there’s leaves there coach.’ So they brought him back a foot and gave him 25’5.”

By Biggs’ estimation, Jackson went 26 feet, 5 inches that day. Not bad, especially when you consider that a jump of 27 feet, 3 inches won a gold medal at the 2012 Summer Olympics.

It shows just how good Jackson is at the event and how close he is to becoming one of the best in the world.

The question?

Will he ever get the chance to find out because of football?

*****

Jackson’s freshman year at USC is technically done; the school had finals a few weeks ago, meaning that for the first time in a long time he can focus solely on athletics. Not that his school work held him back anyway. If anything, you could argue he had one of the most decorated years in USC athletic history.

It all started last fall on the football field where Jackson was simply mesmerizing. He finished the season as a freshman All-American on defense, added 10 catches on offense, and just for good measure returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. In the process, he also accomplished one of the rarest feats in major college football, starting on both offense and defense in the Trojans’ season finale against Notre Dame. No USC player has done that since the 1960s.

Fox Sports 1 college football analyst Petros Papadakis has literally been around USC football since birth, first as the son of a former Trojan (his father played at USC in the 1970’s), then as a captain of the team in 1999.

In all his years watching the team, he’s never seen a player quite like Jackson.  

“I’ve seen all the big-time guys come in with all the accolades in the world,” Papadakis began. “I don’t think anyone has performed more to their billing… to perform just completely as advertised as Adoree’ did. I think he could be one of the great all-time USC corners.”

That’s incredible praise, yet the most incredible thing might be how effortlessly Adoree’ was able to transition out of football and into track and field following the season. He joined the team for a few indoor meets this winter, and still found a way to juggle both spring football and track beginning in March.

And when he did show up, he came to work. He never big-timed anybody and never acted like a superstar.

When it came to track practice, he was just one of the guys.  

The returns from Jackson’s freshman season in the long jump have been nearly as good as those on the gridiron. And he did it all with virtually no practice.

“His personality is so bright, he has a great personality,” Smith Gilbert said. “I never notice that he plays football when he’s at track practice. He’s like any other track kid. He doesn’t bring the air (of confidence, from being a football player).”

There is one common characteristic between Jackson’s dual lives both in football and track however.

“He has a very, very disciplined work ethic,” Smith Gilbert said. “I can tell him something one time and he just does it. I can say ‘Ok, Adoree’, I need you to do it this way, this way and that way’ and he’ll go out and he’ll execute it exactly like I tell him.”

While the world knows Jackson as a football star, he takes his time on the track just as seriously, and the returns from his freshman season in the long jump have been nearly as good as those on the gridiron. Jackson was only allowed to participate in one meet until spring football ended (it was during a week-long break for football), and he proceeded to not only win the long jump, but also run on the winning 4×100 relay team as well.

Jackson is known as a football star, but he takes his time on the track just as seriously.

Pete Stella

And he did it all with virtually no practice.  

Once spring football ended, as you might’ve guessed, the results got even better. He finished first at the Pac-12 Championships, and did it just as he was finally starting to round into track shape. Even after qualifying for the NCAA Championships, which start on Wednesday, Jackson is only now starting to come into form.

“So far I don’t feel like I’ve come close to reaching my full potential,” Jackson admitted.

Not close to reaching his potential, huh? It really is incredible.

It also raises the question: How good could Jackson be if he were able to focus on track full-time?

The answer? Well, it might surprise you. And it might not.

“He’d be NCAA champion and Olympic champion,” Smith Gilbert said.

Biggs, Jackson’s high school coach took things one step further.

“If he made the decision now, Adoree’ would be going for the world record,” Biggs said.

Within a few years, Jackson would be in a class of his own.

“There probably wouldn’t be another jumper to rival him,” Biggs said. “He’d just be fighting against the record.”

Wow.

Those are strong words, and for those who love track, there’s got to be a hint of sadness knowing that they’ll never be able to see Jackson focus full-time the sport. The money that the NFL will eventually be able to offer him will be too much to pass up, and besides, Jackson loves football just as much as track anyway.

It’s a shame.

Or is it? What if Jackson could still compete at the highest levels of the sport, and not have to give up football?

It seems inconceivable, until you actually speak with his coaches.

“Adoree’ can still make the Rio team,” Biggs said, discussing next summer’s Olympic games.

As both Biggs and Smith Gilbert explained, the same principles that make a great football player help Jackson in the long jump. The long jump is about starting and stopping, it’s about speed and power. If this were another event, maybe a long sprint like the 200 meters, it might not be possible for Jackson to seamlessly transition from one to the other.  

But in the long jump it can happen, and it could happen without Jackson giving up football. He could conceivably suit up for USC football this fall, and Team USA next summer.

That’s with one, big “if.”

“Football is not a big conflict with track and field,” Biggs said. “Football is over in enough time for you to prepare for track.”

The problem though? Spring football. As Biggs explains it, a track star needs to use the winter months to build up a base, which will carry him throughout the season. It’s no different than any other sport really. If you put in the work early, it pays off late.  

And really that’s what makes Jackson’s big spring on the track so insane: Because he was participating in spring football through the beginning of April, he really is months away from physically reaching his full potential in the long jump. For lack of a better term, he’s just now in “mid-season form” even as his season is winding down.

Of course to reach the Olympics, he’d need to be in mid-season form, well, mid-season. He’d need to be reaching his physical peak just as his competitors would be in late spring.

That would mean no football for Jackson pretty much from the end of next season, through the Olympics.

“It’s the spring football that’s the killer,” Biggs said. “He can absolutely get on the medal stand if he’s able to be excused from spring football and concentrate on track once football season is over.”

It’s something that Jackson will have to discuss with the USC coaches next winter, but it’s not off the table.

Rio has been on Jackson’s mind for a long time. And he isn’t willing to give up on it just yet.

“That’s still the goal,” Jackson said. “I remember I told my mom, my dad, my grandma in the eighth grade that I wanted to go there after I jumped in middle school. So now that it’s getting closer, I hope to achieve it.”

He also hopes for one more thing. Well, two more things technically.

When asked whether he’d prefer to win an Olympic gold medal or Heisman Trophy, he hesitated before answering.

“I’d probably say Olympic gold medal,” Jackson said.

Then he caught himself, and in a way that only Jackson could, changed his goals right on the fly.

“I think both actually. I would say the Olympics, because it’s once in a lifetime. To compete and win an Olympic gold medal and have it around your neck (would be surreal). The Heisman, it is surreal (too).”

If anyone could do it, it’s Adoree’ Jackson.    

Aaron Torres is a contributor to Outkick the Coverage and FOXSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres, Facebook or e-mail at ATorres00@gmail.com.

Written by Clay Travis

OutKick founder, host and author. He's presently banned from appearing on both CNN and ESPN because he’s too honest for both.