BATON ROUGE, La. — Donte Jackson considers himself to be the fastest man in college football, and he isn’t alone in making that assessment. Many college football observers agree, and so do his teammates.
But don’t just take their word for it. The stopwatch speaks for itself. As a sprinter for the LSU track team, he has been clocked at 10.22 seconds in the 100 meters and 6.63 in the indoor 60 meters.
At a more football-specific distance, he reportedly has been timed at a blazing 4.24 seconds in the 40-yard dash. That mark would rank among the fastest in the history of the NFL scouting combine. He previously won Class 4A Louisiana state titles in the 100 and 200 meters during his time at Riverdale High School in Jefferson.
“I most definitely live up to it,” Jackson said. “When I’m healthy, I’m way over anyone that plays (college) football when it comes to running.”
The question going into this season, however, isn’t how fast Donte Jackson can run. It’s whether he has enough skills as a cover corner to make up for the loss of first-round Buffalo Bills draft pick Tre’Davious White.
The reluctant cornerback
When Jackson started playing high school football, he wasn’t thrilled with his position assignment.
“My freshman year, my coach made me play corner,” Jackson said. “I didn’t understand the position. I was like ‘Corners don’t score touchdowns. I want the ball.’ He was like ‘You’re gonna play corner.'”
Jackson bought in. Now, six years later, he’s poised to lead the secondary at “DBU” with an eye toward becoming the Tigers’ next first-round pick.
“From there, I always wanted to be the best corner I could be,” Jackson said. “With my athleticism, I could be that.”
Jackson showed good enough coverage skills to earn a starting spot as a sophomore opposite White last season. But Jackson’s goal for this year is to become a true shutdown corner.
“He’s one of the fastest (college players) for sure, but needs to get better at technique,” said LSU coach Ed Orgeron. “He has some things he has to get better at. But he’s a potential high draft-pick.”
Indeed, the technical side of the position has been Jackson’s primary focus this offseason. In the eyes of Tigers sophomore wide receiver Drake Davis, who has battled Jackson countless times in practice, Jackson is making solid progress.
“Every time you go against Donte, you have to bring something new,” Davis said. “You can’t do the same thing, because he’s so intelligent. If you beat him on one play, he’ll go that next day and study it all night.”
A potent weapon
Now that he’s older and wiser, Jackson is much happier about his role at cornerback.
“I’ve definitely changed my opinion about being able to score touchdowns, because it’s very possible,” he said. “You trust your technique, what your coaches are telling you, you’ll get a chance to score some touchdowns.”
Jackson has a very specific goal as far as touchdowns are concerned.
“I want at least three pick-6s this year,” he said.
And that won’t be the only way he can score. Jackson is making the switch from kickoff returner to punt returner this season. He feels better suited to fielding punts than he was at kickoffs since it is more about making guys miss than breaking tackles.
“I feel like something special is going to happen every time I see the ball come my way,” Jackson said. “Punt return, kickoff return, corner, it don’t matter. I just feel like I can make something happen any time I can get to the ball.”