MONTGOMERY, Ala. — Saying Alec Jackson wears his Auburn football fandom on his sleeve would be putting it mildly. Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 284-pound defensive lineman, wears it across both of his sleeves, his chest and his back in the form of a Tigers-branded hoodie.
The hoodie became synonymous with Jackson at Jeff Davis High School in Alabama’s capital city. While many in the hallways wear the JD Volunteers’ green and gold, Jackson proudly sported a bright orange Auburn Tigers sweatshirt seemingly every day.
“He has an Auburn hoodie that I probably first saw him wear in the ninth grade,” Jeff Davis football coach Lee Carter told SEC Country. “He’s still in this same Auburn hoodie. It’s surprising that he hasn’t been in any trouble for dress code violation, because he stays in Auburn gear.”
Jackson’s fashion sense should make an easy transition over the next few weeks, when he settles into living his dream — playing football at Auburn.
He’ll move onto campus this upcoming weekend, the next step in what has been a whirlwind journey for one of the Tigers’ newest defensive linemen.
“I really couldn’t believe when Auburn started recruiting me, because it happened so fast,” Jackson told SEC Country. “I wasn’t able to totally process it. When I got home, I was just sitting down and thinking, ‘Did this really just happen?’ It was very overwhelming.
“Now I’m signed to them, and everything has happened so fast. In just a few weeks, I’ll be there and already enrolled. It’s going to be a great four years.”
A family tradition
Jackson isn’t the only member of his family who stood out with Auburn colors.
His mother, Teresa Lee, used to drive a bright orange Honda. Lee originally is from Indiana, but she has become a diehard Auburn fan during her time in Alabama.
“They just grew on me,” Lee told SEC Country. “I tried to be an Alabama fan, but it just wasn’t working for me.”
Lee passed that adopted Auburn fandom to the rest of her family — except for Jackson’s brother, who kept the house divided by pulling for the Crimson Tide.
Jackson said he grew up watching the Tigers and dreamed of playing in Jordan-Hare Stadium. After making a position change as an underclassman at Jeff Davis, he knew he wanted to be the next great Auburn defensive lineman.
“When I was playing tight end, my favorite player was Philip Lutzenkirchen,” Jackson said. “I ended up playing d-line and getting switched over there. I started looking at Nick Fairley, (Dee) Ford, Montravius Adams, all those guys. Carl Lawson and Marlon (Davidson), too. All of those guys, I just pictured myself playing with them as I played in high school.”
After his junior year at Jeff Davis, those dreams moved closer to reality.
During one weekend in March 2016, Jackson visited Alabama and Auburn and picked up scholarship offers from both schools. The latter offer was terrific news to the Jackson family.
Blessed to received my 13th offer from Auburn University!!!!🐅💪🏈 pic.twitter.com/tXaPCYKvtD
— Alec Jackson (@_TheFuture7) March 26, 2016
“It was great, seeing everybody smiling,” Jackson said. “They were all like, ‘Yeah, you better go here.’ They weren’t serious about it. I was just taking it all in and grinning the whole day and the day after at school.”
Jackson’s proud mother also had a massive grin on her face.
“I loved it. I was very excited about them wanting my son to play for them,” Lee said. “I’ve wanted that as long as we’ve been Auburn fans. … It was a relief that they wanted him. That was a great day for us.”
That spring day was also great for Jackson as a prospect.
“Finally getting my name out was huge,” Jackson said. “After Auburn offered, it was over. That’s when my recruitment really started going.”
In the next month, Jackson received scholarship offers from Miami (Fla.), Nebraska, LSU, Tennessee, Southern Cal, Vanderbilt, North Carolina State, Mississippi State, Florida, Texas, Missouri and Maryland.
According to Carter, though, all that attention didn’t change the versatile defensive lineman who had put so much effort into making his position switch work.
“It never stopped how hard he worked,” Carter said. “His mother Teresa did a great job of raising him. … The more and more he got recruited, the harder he worked. While some players who get recruited and kind of let it go to their heads and think they’re above the rest of the team, he never missed a day.”
Doing his due diligence
As much of a diehard Auburn fan as Jackson is, he didn’t jump on the offer from the Tigers.
Scholarship offers continued to pour in for Jackson in the summer before his senior season at Jeff Davis. He took plenty of unofficial visits and attended several camps — including recruiting heavy-hitters Alabama, Clemson, LSU and Texas.
“I encouraged him to make sure what he wanted to do,” Lee said. “He had a lot of opportunities when it came time to decide where to go to college. I just wanted him to be sure where he really wanted to be.”
The biggest challenger for Auburn for Jackson’s commitment was the farthest away from the Plains. Late last November, Jackson took an official visit to Southern Cal. Jackson was a fan of what he saw from the Trojans.
“Going out to LA for the first time, it was pretty great,” Jackson said. “Never really have bad weather. Well, on my official visit, it rained some. It was really sunny until the game, then it started raining. But after that, it was beautiful weather out there. The only thing that was crazy was traffic.”
Shortly after Jackson returned from California, though, the Tigers stepped up their recruiting efforts.
“It’s been no secret that he’s an Auburn fan from Day 1,” Carter said. “When Auburn decided to turn the heat up as far as recruiting him, it was a no-brainer. When he met with Auburn coaches, the glow he had on him was a lot different than meeting with other coaches.”
— Alec Jackson (@_TheFuture7) December 4, 2016
Auburn defensive line coach Rodney Garner and defensive coordinator Kevin Steele made an in-home visit in early December. They made quite an impression on Lee, too.
“[Auburn’s coaches] were great,” Lee said. “All of them were down-to-earth and friendly, family types. They’d always give me a hug.”
A few weeks later, Jackson decided to go with his dream school. He announced his commitment on Christmas Day, which he said was a coincidence more than anything.
“Two days before, I prayed about it to make sure it was the right decision,” Jackson said. “The day before Christmas, I felt comfortable about it. So the whole day, I was just sitting and waiting. There was a person who makes pictures and stuff, and I asked him to make one for my commitment. Basically, we waited the whole day. I told him to let me know when he was done with it.
“So it just so happened it was on Christmas. But the media took it to a whole new level. They said it was like a Christmas present for Auburn.”
— Alec Jackson (@_TheFuture7) December 25, 2016
Jackson’s decision created an extra-special Christmas for his Auburn-loving family.
“I was very happy,” Lee said. “I would’ve been happy with wherever he chose, but because it was Auburn, I was very, very, very happy. … It’s a wonderful place for him to go. It’s family-oriented, and he can get a strong education there. I think he’ll do well.”
Work, hard work
While Jackson didn’t have four or five stars beside his name in high school, he developed a reputation for being a high-energy presence on the defensive line.
Sometimes, his effort is so relentless that coaches have to tell him to take a step back in practice.
“He wants to be the first in every sprint and everything,” Carter said. “One time he cramped up and we had to go get him on the IV in the hospital. The next day, we saw him out there at the water hose before practice. We were like, ‘No, no, no, take a day off.'”
At the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game last December, coaches had to get Jackson to stop making so many plays in practice. He disrupted the flow of drills by swatting down passes over and over again.
“It wasn’t really intentional,” Jackson said with a laugh. “I mean, the first time it was. After that, I was just throwing my hands up. … I was batting balls down left and right. The coaches had to come over to me and go, ‘OK, come on, we’re trying to have practice, too.’ ”
Jackson’s future position coach at Auburn made a special note of that.
“He’s 6-foot-5, may be closer to 6-foot-6, and he has an 85-inch wingspan,” Garner said in February. “He puts his hand in there, and he has the ability to block a lot of balls. Coming out of the Alabama-Mississippi All-Star Game and talking to those coaches, they said he was so disruptive in practices that he just kept batting the ball down. They had to tell him, ‘Don’t put your hands up. We won’t tell anybody.’ ”
Soon, Garner will get his own hands on Jackson, who he believes could play defensive end or traditional defensive tackle. Jackson says Auburn has told him repeatedly he has the ability to play any position on the defensive line.
No matter where he settles in for the Tigers, though, two things will be guarantees for Jackson — hard work and a huge smile.
“In four years, I can’t remember him missing a practice or a workout,” Carter said. “When I say Auburn’s getting a very hard-working individual, I truly mean that.”
As for the smile, it’ll match the one on the face of Jackson’s mother and the rest of his Tigers-obsessed family. When the versatile defensive lineman takes the field for the first time in Jordan-Hare Stadium, he’ll get to live out a family dream.
“I don’t really know what that day’s going to be like,” Lee said. “My heart’s probably going to be in my throat.”