John Jackson Jr. has been around a lot of high school football players this week, preparing to work as the commentator on Fox Sports Net's coverage of the 53rd Shrine All-Star Football Classic on Saturday night at Mt. San Antonio College.
The game's participants are the best players in Southern California, one team representing public schools and the other private schools.
Jackson, who will work the game with play-by-play announcer Bill Macdonald and sideline reporters Petros Papadakis and Lindsay Soto, knows something about being a high school football star.
Jackson also knows something about the benefits of playing four years of college ball before going pro.
Most of the players in Saturday's 7 p.m. game probably are hoping for pro careers, and many of them probably would like them to start sooner rather than later.
They can point to Thursday's NBA draft or the recent baseball draft. Kids are going straight from high school to the pros in those sports. Or they can point to what Maurice Clarett and Mike Williams hoped to do -- get the courts to make the NFL accept players with less than three years of college football.
Jackson doesn't think that's a good idea.
After starring in football and baseball at Bishop Amat High and USC, Jackson played both sports professionally. But the best years of his athletic life were spent at USC. In football, he became the school's sixth-leading receiver. In baseball, he batted .322 as a center fielder and stole 52 bases, third best all-time.
He would have missed out on those years had he gone straight to the pros or left school early.
"Maybe it's OK for a Mike Williams, a unique talent, but for every Mike Williams, there would be 10 to 20 kids ruining their college careers by trying to make it in the NFL," he said.
"Players right out of high school are not ready for the NFL. They're not mature enough, and their bodies are not ready to get hit by someone like Bill Romanowski or Ray Lewis.
"I like the rule the way it is."
Beginning in 1990, Jackson played three seasons with the Arizona Cardinals while also playing minor league baseball.
He gave up football to concentrate on baseball in 1994 and '95, getting as high as the Angels' triple-A affiliate in Vancouver. In 1996, he gave up baseball and returned to football, playing one season with the Chicago Bears.
The Bears didn't invite him back, and no other team was interested because of the salary cap.
Being a four-year player made Jackson virtually unmarketable as a No. 3 receiver.
So he went back to USC and earned a master's degree in business administration.
That didn't necessarily help him get into broadcasting or land his other job as an area manager for SBC, but it's nice to have such a degree to fall back on.
The broadcasting career began after Tom Kelly, the longtime Trojan announcer, persuaded Jackson to work a USC-UCLA baseball game with him for Fox Sports Net in 1995.
"I was so nervous, I rehearsed the opening 50 times, memorized every word, and I have no idea how it came out," Jackson said.
Jackson, whose father is John Robinson's chief assistant coach at Nevada Las Vegas, has since learned a lot about broadcasting.
In February 2000, he also learned a lot about mortality.
Jackson, 32 at the time, felt severe chest pains after a day of golf and pickup basketball. He called his doctor, who told him he'd probably suffered a bruise inside his chest while playing basketball. But the pain didn't subside, so he went to Torrance Memorial Hospital, where he was examined and sent home.
At 4:30 the next morning, the pain was so bad he went back to the hospital. This time it was determined that he was suffering from atherosclerosis, a rare heart condition caused by tiny bits of plaque being deposited on artery walls. He immediately underwent open-heart surgery, which prevented a potentially fatal blood clot.
"Something like that makes you appreciate life from a whole different perspective," Jackson said.
Not that he didn't already have a pretty good perspective.
Saturday night's Shrine Game won't be the only football on television this weekend. NBC will televise ArenaBowl XVIII between San Jose and Arizona on Sunday at 1 p.m.
It offers a glimpse into the future of sports television, with NBC putting eight wireless microphones on players and coaches and the league allowing sideline reporters almost total access.
Commentator Pat Haden, who will work the game with play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond, has been won over by the sport.
"If we didn't broadcast the games, I would probably go to a number of Avenger games, just as a fan," he said.
John McEnroe, who is part of NBC's Wimbledon coverage this weekend, would like to see men's tennis become more fan-friendly.
"The players themselves have to do a better job," he said. "We need to do a better job of marketing ourselves and increasing our accessibility.