Jaliel Jackson ready to make his dream a reality

Credit: Nicole Noel Photography

Credit: Nicole Noel Photography

United States President Joe Biden declared the pandemic over when he signed a resolution terminating the coronavirus national emergency on April 10, 2023. The impacts the pandemic had on millions of people across the world will continue to be felt. 

Credit: Twitter @JacksonJaliel

Local San Diegan and recent SDSU football commit Jaliel Jackson is yet another college athlete whose journey took a major left turn as a result of COVID-19.

In March 2020, Jackson was a freshman scholarship baseball player at Hawai’i Pacific University. 

“I played football, baseball, and basketball my entire life, and I ended up choosing baseball over football initially out of high school,” said Jackson during an upcoming episode of The SDSU Football Podcast. 

The outfielder/first basemen credits a conversation with his mother that kept him from giving up baseball his senior year at San Diego High School because he thought the team would be terrible. 

“My mom was like, ‘you have too much talent … you don’t know if this is gonna be your last (chance), so go out there and do it,’” Jackson recalled. 

Mother knows best. 

Jackson hit a league-high .545 his senior year (and .505 during his four-year high school career) on the way to First-Team All-League. College scouts showed up in force to evaluate him and offer scholarships throughout the season.

He played two games (one hit in three at-bats) at Hawai’i Pacific before the pandemic shut the world down. He came back to San Diego to work out, hoping to catch on with a local junior college baseball team, but the state of California canceled junior college baseball for the year. 

Mulling over his future during quarantine, his body began changing. 

“(I was) lifting, training, running, and my body started to fill out, and I got up to like 270 (lbs) over that year and a half,” Jackson noted. “I talked to coach James, my high school football coach, and he was like, ‘look, man, you can do baseball, but you’re looking like a football guy (now).’” 

Credit: Twitter @JacksonJaliel

Out of high school, Jackson weighed 235 lbs, too small for a defensive lineman, according to scouts. He began training again with coach James and, after knocking off some rust, was back in his comfort zone on the gridiron. 

During his high school career, Jackson played tight end and every position along the defensive line, helping lead San Diego High to the Division IV CIF Championship in 2019 with a 42-14 victory over Kearny High. In the game, Jackson returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half.  

While training with coach James, Jackson reached out to nearby San Diego Mesa College and joined the team for the start of the 2022 season. He was initially buried on the depth chart behind two returning starters on the defensive line, including Ezra Christensen, another SDSU recruit for the Class of 2023 who chose Fresno State over the Aztecs earlier this year.  

Halfway through the 2022 season, Jackson began receiving snaps due to injuries to the starting linemen. His breakout game came on October 29th against Fullerton College, with several D1 scouts in attendance. 

“They had this 6’8 freak of nature offensive tackle (George Silva) who had just committed to Oregon, but other schools were still trying to get him,” Jackson said. “Cal and Washington State were there (to watch Silva), and I took that personally. That’s the game I basically put myself on the map.”

Jackson finished with six tackles (one tackle for loss) lined up primarily against Silva and began receiving attention from Washington State and other schools shortly thereafter. He finished the season with 21 tackles, four tackles for loss, and two sacks over seven appearances. 

Jackson received his first offer from USD while interest from Washington State subsided after the coach he was in contact with departed for a coaching position at another school. 

Other programs felt he might need another year at the JUCO level before jumping to a D1 program but Jackson, unsure how many remaining eligible years the NCAA would afford him due to his time at Hawai’i Pacific, did not want to take any chances. He technically has two years of eligibility remaining, although is hopeful the NCAA will grant him a waiver for a third year.

Despite receiving scholarship offers for baseball, his football recruitment never materialized in high school. 

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His father, Seandale Jackson, played defensive line for Fresno State in the 1990s, and since Jaliel believed he was more athletic than his father, his lack of offers disappointed him. 

At La Jolla High School, Seandale was All-State as an offensive lineman and All-City as a defensive lineman, receiving offers from 52 D1 programs. 

How does the family recall such a precise number? 

When Jaliel was a junior in high school, he began peppering his dad with questions about his recruitment and whether he really had a plethora of offers. After deflecting initially, Seandale finally gave in. One morning, he dropped a stack of handwritten offer letters on the table and asked Jaliel to start counting. The tally stopped at 52.

Credit: Twitter @JacksonJaliel

In the 1990s, before the advent of the internet, recruiting looked and felt very different than it does in today’s social media world. Head coaches or recruiters sent handwritten offer letters to high schools to deliver to the player. Seandale began receiving letters his sophomore year, but they really picked up in his junior and senior years. 

One of those letters was from the top local university, San Diego State. 

“They would have to contact my mother because they couldn’t contact me directly,” Seandale recalls. “SDSU and all the other colleges would call us at dinner time every day as we got closer to the February signing deadline.”

His decision ultimately came down between Fresno State and San Diego State. He chose Fresno State because he liked the defensive line coach there, and they were the only school that allowed him to pick which side of the ball he wanted to play (he chose defense). 

“San Diego State had great players, and I thought it would probably take me a little longer to play there,” he said. “At the time, La’Roi Glover was the guy in the position I was at, and he ended up going to play in the NFL with the Saints. And they had a few other guys on offense too, like Kyle Turley, who went pro, so I thought my opportunity would be best at Fresno State.” 

The family football genes do not just lie within their immediate family. Jaliel also had an uncle and cousin who played in the NFL and another cousin, Jordan Howden, a safety at the University of Minnesota, who declared for this year’s NFL Draft and is a projected late-round pick.

In his current situation as a junior college transfer, Jackson wanted to bet on himself. The bet paid off when SDSU came calling with a Preferred Walk-On (PWO) offer. 

“As soon as San Diego State invited me on a visit, it was pretty much locked in at that point,” Jackson said as he advised SDSU CBs coach and lead recruiter, Demetrius Sumler, that he would not entertain offers from any other school anymore. “They took their chance on me, so I’m gonna do the same thing for them.”

Jackson posted his commitment to SDSU on Twitter on April 10th. 

Jackson says that some people close to him wanted him to wait for a scholarship offer, even if it meant returning to Mesa for another year. 

“Sometimes people see a (PWO) almost in a disrespectful way,” he said. “I played this many games at Mesa in just a year, and that’s just switching off with other guys. I see it as a challenge. It’s an opportunity to show that (I) deserve that scholarship. You guys want to give me a chance; you’re not going to regret it. Everything is a dream until it’s made a reality.”

The elder Jackson also brushed off the criticism. 

“There’s always going to be people that see what you’re doing or question your decision-making without knowing what you’re pursuing,” he said. 

What the younger Jackson is pursuing is an NFL career. 

“I think this opportunity really aligned with what (Jaliel) wanted to do within the means of what he saw as his primary goal,” Seandale stated. 

DL Coach Bojay Filimoeatu with DL Sameula Tuihalamaka. (Don De Mars/EVT)

In addition to being close to home and not having to adjust to new surroundings so he can focus strictly on football, his father boasts about the abilities of head coach Brady Hoke and DL coach Bojay Filimoeatu. 

“(SDSU) is really focused on the defensive line and building around that, so it gives him the opportunity to be with a great team of people that will be not only a resource for him to get to that next level but will definitely coach him through any challenges he might have to get there,” Seandale explained. 

“Coaches at that level are able to see what you need to do, where you need to be, and how you need to grow to get to the next level because they have seen those athletes. Coach Hoke and Bojay have tons of success and development where they have seen these pro-level people. Now they have Jaliel, who has a nice frame that can add and build upon the things I have taught him over the years, and it’s only going to elevate his game. It is perfect for him to go out and prove himself.”

“This PWO thing is only temporary,” Jaliel added, showing immense confidence in his ability to showcase his talents at the D1 level.

Jackson now weighs 285 lbs to go with his 6’3 height. His versatility in playing all over the defensive line is his best attribute and what could get him on the field sooner than expected. 

“I can drop back into coverage … I’m quick enough to cover slants, but I can also hold my ground on the inside when I’m playing nose (tackle),” he described, naming Aaron Donald, Aidan Hutchinson, Khalil Mack, and Julius Peppers as players he studies and tries to emulate. 

He looks forward to stepping into a similar role as Jonah Tavai, SDSU’s most recent All-American defensive lineman. While watching film from last season, Tavai’s motor immediately stood out to Jackson, something he prides himself on to stand out amongst his peers. 

“When everybody is tired, make sure you’re less tired,” he said. “I have to come in on a different level conditioning-wise. I don’t want to get ready there. I want to come in ready and get better from there.” 

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The November 25th game against Fresno State is circled on his calendar, providing the chance to play against his Mesa teammates, Christensen and wide receiver Antoine Sullivan.

“Looking forward to playing them … just showing them where (they) should have been,” joked Jackson. 

The game will also be a “little bit of get back” against his father, the Bulldog alum.

“I am a true Bulldog, have Bulldog tattoos on me,” exclaimed Seandale. “But during that game, I will be wearing SDSU attire.”

When asked to respond to Jaliel’s proclamation that he is the best athlete in the family, Seandale laughed. 

“We are both D1 now, and we will see what happens when Jaliel gets out there,” he answered, adding, “he still has things to prove to me.”

There won’t be a sweeter time for Jaliel to prove those things than on November 25. 

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