Welcome to SEC Country’s daily Eye on the Tigers, a rundown of everything happening in LSU Tigers recruiting, with Sam Spiegelman. Today, we discuss LSU’s newest commit, sophomore defensive lineman McKinnley Jackson, who became the first member of the Tigers’ 2020 recruiting class.
Tears were shed after McKinnley Jackson committed
LUCEDALE, Miss. — Jamie Fantroy isn’t a crier. In fact, McKinnley Jackson pegs his mother as the strongest person he knows.
Fantroy works multiple jobs, including one with Forest County and two others on the side to help raise Jackson and her daughter, Kennedi. Jackson labeled her as the fighter of the family and his main source of motivation.
In between three different jobs, Fantroy is helping her son, a 4-star defensive lineman in the Class of 2020 and a top-40 prospect nationally, with his recruitment. The two returned to Baton Rouge for a third time since Jackson was offered by coach Ed Orgeron during a June prospect camp, this time taking in their first Saturday night in Death Valley and the Tigers rolled over Texas A&M, 45-21. After the game, when Jackson and Fantroy met with Orgeron, the tough-minded Fantroy shed a tear.
She was touched by the connection between her son and LSU’s head football coach.
Two days later, Jackson looked toward his mother and told her that his mind was set on LSU. As strong as Fantroy had been throughout the process, she began to cry … again. Her son was the first piece of the Tigers’ 2020 recruiting class and he had found a home away from home in Baton Rouge.
“The way they recruited me, they treated me like family, especially Coach O. When we were there, it made my mother cry because it made her so happy,” Jackson told SEC Country. “Wherever I landed, she’d be happy, but this was the best place for me to be a better man, a better person and a better player.”
The 6-foot-2, 300-pound Jackson realized it was time to commit after that conversation with Orgeron following the Texas A&M game. Not only did the team’s dominance on the field appeal to Jackson, but the postgame conversation left an impression, as well.
Orgeron approached Jackson and Fantroy with a sincere message, which triggered an emotional response and a boom within 48 hours.
“We’re going to take care of him and love him just like you do. He’s going to be a very rich man in the future,” Orgeron told Fantroy.
“It was made me feel the way that she felt — emotional,” Jackson recalled. “I knew this was the route. Even though it’s so soon, it was on my mind and I knew where I wanted to be. When I told her [he wanted to commit], she cried again. She’s not a big crier, but the last few days made her tear up.”
“She motivates me,” he added. “She works two jobs and she’s so strong. I want to be strong just like her.”
From June to November, Ed Orgeron left his mark
Jackson was an unfamiliar name when he showed up at LSU’s indoor practice facility in June for the team’s annual lineman camp. That quickly changed by the time he returned to Mississippi.
A sophomore about 12 pounds lighter, Jackson was the main attraction during the morning session. He worked 1-on-1 with Orgeron and then-outside linebackers coach Dennis Johnson and left the facility with an offer in hand.
The 4-star defensive lineman pushed his weight up to 300 pounds before the start of George County (Miss.) High’s season. The lessons instilled by the LSU coaching staff were reinforced by high school coaches, which led to a breakout sophomore campaign in which Jackson recorded 81 tackles (57 solo, 24 assists), 10 sacks, 20 quarterback hurries, 7.0 forced fumbles and 3.0 fumble recoveries.
“My stats will tell you that I learned most things from the camps I went to this summer, especially the ones at LSU,” Jackson said. “Coach O told me to get my hips thrusting, get that explosion out, and it helped me come out with a great season. What they taught me, my coaches here taught me the same thing. They’re just like the coaches there, and they’re like family, and that’s why I see myself there.”
More importantly, Orgeron saw something in the 288-pound prospect he touted as “raw” and “skinny.”
That has been a central theme in LSU’s pursuit of Jackson over the subsequent six months, which led to a commitment on Monday. The Coastal Mississippi product is well-aware of his potential along the Tigers’ defensive front, and paired with the other intangibles he has noticed in Baton Rouge over that span, it made for an obvious decision.
“They way they talk to me, before and after camp, they had never seen anyone at my age with the type of size, 300 pounds looking raw and skinny. They knew I would be something special one of these days … at LSU,” Jackson recalled. “The football, the education, the social life …. they got all that and those traits locked in and I love it there.”
Will McKinnley Jackson stick for 2 more years?
What spurred the early commitment from Jackson?
On Jackson’s third unofficial visit to LSU, the team put up a dominant performance. Unlike his previous stops for prospect camps or the Tennessee-Chattanooga tilt, this environment was raucous. Yes, an SEC showdown under the lights in Death Valley.
Jackson’s focus was on the big men in the trenches, naturally, and more specifically the 3-4 scheme that encompasses versatile defensive linemen scattered with longer, leaner pass-rushers. A projected 2- or 3-technique, Jackson left rather impressed.
“They were eating on the D-line,” he laughed. “They got after it against Texas A&M. They were eating. The linebackers all across the front, they played big in the holes. It’s a perfect fit for me.”
“I’m probably a 3- or a 2-technique,” Jackson added, “but I’ll go anywhere. I’m comfortable anywhere, but I’m most comfortable in the backfield.”
An early commitment from Jackson should have LSU fans excited. When it comes to recruiting, there’s always skepticism involved.
Jackson popped to LSU right after his sophomore season came to a close and he’s well-aware of the timing of his commitment. He understands there are 24 more months before he’s eligible to sign his letter of intent and there was no rush to come to a decision. However, his mind was already made up and didn’t see any reason for holding off any longer.
“The family environment there, they made me feel like I was at a home away from home,” Jackson began. “Baton Rouge always treats me with a lot of love. It’s like I’m a little brother, a son or a nephew. The whole environment there, everyone knows me and wants me to come there and I’m proud to be a part of it.”
With early offers from the likes of Alabama, Auburn and Florida — and more likely to come over the next few months — there’s naturally reason for pause.
However, Jackson is high on the current LSU coaching staff and the environment that they have created in Baton Rouge. Assuming that situation remains as is, and with Johnson taking over for the retiring Pete Jenkins as the Tigers’ defensive line coach, there is certainly cause for optimism in Jackson sticking around for two years.
“The vibe they have now — if that stays consistent or keeps growing, it’s going to be verbal,” he said. “These people right now show me so much and how I can be better over there. My mind is on LSU, but with the timing of it, you never know what can happen. I’m very confident [that I stick]. As long as Coach O, Coach Johnson and Coach [Ronnie] Wheat are there, I’m there.”
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