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Jackson Is Having a Ball in Two Sports

Considered the best receiver in the Southland, the Long Beach Poly senior has also become a standout on the baseball field.

September 03, 2004|Eric Stephens | Times Staff Writer

DeSean Jackson sometimes wonders what it would be like if he had a day in which he didn't do anything. Nothing at all.

In his sports-minded family, the Long Beach Poly wide receiver knows that probably will never happen.

"You think you wouldn't have anything to do on Sunday," Jackson said with a smile. "But my brother would have me up in the morning and we'd be at the field doing drills and running patterns."

Sports have been a focal point in his young life. If he wasn't playing Pop Warner football, it was Little League baseball. Or playing basketball or running sprints for a track coach.

Years of diligence combined with natural talent have led to some college coaches and recruiting experts naming Jackson as one of the nation's top prep athletes.

Already considered the best receiver in Southern California heading into this football season, the 5-foot-11, 170-pound senior is also a standout in baseball.

In front of college coaches and professional scouts at the prestigious Area Code Games in Long Beach last month, Jackson had three hits, including a triple, a walk and three stolen bases to lead his team to a victory in the showcase's all-star game.

Jackson is already entertaining football scholarship offers from California, Pittsburgh and Louisiana State, but the speedy outfielder could also be a high-round pick in baseball's major league amateur draft in June.

"I've had a lot of people ask me, 'Which would you like to choose?' " he said. "At this point in my life, I don't want to have to be put on the spot for that kind of decision. I just want to take both as far as I can go with them. I'd like to be great at both sports."

He has played both -- and more -- on the same day. On July 19 at USC, he made the Milwaukee Brewers' Area Code team during morning tryouts. That afternoon, he caught six touchdown passes in summer passing league games against Newhall Hart and Huntington Beach Edison.

An hour later, he clocked 4.29 seconds in the 40-yard dash to finish a close second to Lionel Larry, a former 100- and 200-meter champion at Compton Dominguez, at a Nike-sponsored competition to determine the fastest kid in Los Angeles.

Bill Jackson said his son has always thrived on athletics. In turn, he went to great measures to expose DeSean to quality coaching and influential people.

DeSean's older brother, Byron, a former player in the NFL and NFL Europe, would take him along to training camps and give him the opportunity to meet pro players and coaches.

"I pushed him but if he didn't want to do it, I wouldn't make him," Bill said. "DeSean was the type of kid that loved to do all that stuff. You owe it to your kids to do whatever you can to help them to the next level.

Said DeSean: "A lot of people get on my dad because they say he works me too hard. But I'm really glad that he put that effort into me."

Academics are equally important in the Jackson home. Two older siblings and two adopted children have college degrees. DeSean's mother, Gayle, graduated from Duquesne.

"My role is to make sure that he keeps his grades up," Bill Jackson said. "Don't let all this publicity stop you from doing what you're supposed to do in the classroom."

DeSean has been listening. He scored 1,280 on his SAT and carries a 3.0 grade-point average.

Jackson's immediate focus is a big final football season. Last year, he caught 43 passes for 850 yards while playing in the shadow of former Jackrabbit Derrick Jones.

As usual, Poly figures to be in contention for the Southern Section Division I championship. In last season's title game, Jackson caught two touchdown passes in a 21-17 loss to Los Angeles Loyola.

"A lot of people are coming back this year and they know how it feels to get to that big game and lose," Jackson said. "I think it made us a little more humble."

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