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Back on His Own Turf

College football: New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson took a long time to get from Dorsey to USC.

September 04, 1997|ROBYN NORWOOD | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Hue Jackson's heroes weren't even 20 blocks away, but he never went to see them.

The distance between his South-Central neighborhood and USC seemed farther than that to him. It was--and still is.

"I never came over here when I was a kid," said Jackson, USC's new offensive coordinator. "I wasn't one to hang on the fence and watch practice. I didn't know you could. I thought it would cost money or something."

A straight shot down Hoover Street from the Coliseum, the kids at 48th Street Park used to play a game in which you gang-tackled whoever was bold enough to pick the ball up off the ground. Until he went down in a crumple of bodies, that kid was Mike Garrett or O.J. or Charles White, running for daylight.

Jackson has found his openings again and again, and at only 31 the Dorsey High graduate is one of Coach John Robinson's two right-hand men--a kid from the neighborhood who became not a star running back or receiver or cornerback, but one of the bosses.

Calvin H. Bowers, minister of the Figueroa Street Church of Christ at Figueroa and 57th for 40 years, swells with pride at the mention of John and Betty Jackson's son, a man he has known for 31 years.

"All his life," said Bowers, a USC graduate who also works as a professor of communications at Pepperdine. "It brings a great personal satisfaction to have someone of that status from the community, and to be working in the community. This means that here's an individual we can point to, for those who are aspiring and having problems, here is a person who has come right out of our community and is demonstrating success.

"So many times the stereotypical kid is the only one mentioned. There are a lot of shining examples that never get mentioned."

Already, Jackson has brought a handful of USC players by the church he grew up in, a few blocks from where he was raised in an apartment above another church at 52nd and Hoover. Bowers plans for days when youngsters from the neighborhood will make the short but distant trek to USC to see Jackson.

"I've been kind of light on him since it's his first year," Bowers said. "But we plan to maximize Hue to the extent he's available."

Over at Manual Arts High, Coach Glenn Bell tells his players about Jackson, a player he coached at Dorsey 15 years ago.

"Every single day. I point to him every single day," Bell said. "He's so important. He gives these kids something to hope for."

The stories of danger in the neighborhood are real, and sometimes grotesque. Bell remembers the horrors of an apartment complex across from the school, a place called the "jungle" frequented by drug traffickers and transients where he says a woman's head was once found in a paper bag.

Jackson doesn't gloss over a childhood he says might have been disastrous if not for loving, disciplined, church-going parents.

"There's a lot of scars that are left," said Jackson, who chose a home in Aliso Viejo when he returned to Southern California because "it was best for my family."

"There are a lot of great memories, but there are things that happened in my childhood I'll never forget. It's not something I'd like to live again. It's not something I want my kids to experience.

"I have friends who are dead, friends in jail," he said. "You look back, that could be you. I very easily could be one of those men out on the street at 10 or 11 at night. You pinch yourself. But I didn't want to be average. I want to be great. I want to be John Robinson some day."

It has been a fast and furious rise for Jackson, a live-wire who became a wishbone quarterback at University of the Pacific after USC turned up its nose at a 5-foot-10, 170-pound quarterback, even though he led Dorsey to a City Section championship over Locke at the Coliseum in 1982.

He started his coaching career at Pacific and went from there to Cal State Fullerton, then to Arizona State, where he helped build last year's Rose Bowl team, and to California, where he was offensive coordinator last season when Pat Barnes passed for 318 yards a game. He has also had NFL summer internships with the Rams, Cardinals and Redskins and was an assistant for the London Monarchs in the World League.

His reputation grew because of his association with such quarterbacks as Barnes and Arizona State's Jake Plummer, and the passing game is where he made his name--even though Arizona State Coach Bruce Snyder jokes that Jackson "can't throw a spiral." Others tease him about when he will bring the wishbone to USC.

There will be more variety in USC's passing game, and the Trojans will line up with three and even four receivers more often this season, but Jackson isn't confused about where he is coaching.

"The first thing I want people to say is that USC is running the football," he said. "One thing I believe is we have to be physically tougher, and a lot of people say that comes from running the football and stopping the run.

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