BATON ROUGE, La. — LSU cornerback Donte Jackson has always been a strong runner. Now he’s learning to be a great juggler.
Last year, Jackson’s attempt to be a two-sport athlete caught up to him in the classroom. He was ruled academically ineligible to compete for the football and track teams in the middle of last spring.
Sporting a much better awareness of how to manage time as a sophomore, Jackson is once again competing as a sprinter for the Tiger track team while also going through spring practice with the football team.
“It wasn’t too much (last year). I just wasn’t organized with what I was spending my time on,” Jackson said. “I kind of let school fall back. Now I’m ready to take on the challenge to make sure I’m putting equal time into everything.”
Jackson has plenty of helpers to make sure he’s always where he is supposed to be at the right time, from his coaches to his phone.
“I have like 20 alarms set up on my phone,” Jackson said. “Making sure I’m in the places I need to be and I’m communicating with my coaches in both sports and trainers in both sports.”
With football practices being held every other day in the spring, Jackson is able to rotate to track on the off days.
“I’m working at all times,” Jackson said. “It’s a pretty hectic schedule for anyone that’s normal. But I’m not normal.”
Indeed, Jackson’s speed can be called abnormal. He will be the fastest player in college football in 2017 based on his 60-meter dash time. LSU track and field coach Dennis Shaver said his speed is comparable to that of former Tiger speed demon Trindon Holliday during his freshman and sophomore years.
“At 60 meters they’re relatively close to being the same,” Shaver said. “Thus far in Donte’s career, he’s doing a lot of the same things indoors that Trindon did. Trindon continued to improve and get faster his junior and senior years. I think they are very, very similar.”
Shaver believes running track can benefit football players come fall, and wanted to make sure Ed Orgeron agreed with that philosophy when he was named LSU’s full-time head coach in December.
“When we met with Coach O, we spoke a lot about his philosophy as a football coach. Of course in the SEC, one of the things that’s a huge factor is overall team speed,” Shaver said. “He wanted that at all positions. We felt working together, not only would it facilitate football, but obviously we’d benefit too.
“It was a very supportive meeting. He’s all about what’s best for LSU. We’ll be helping them and they’ll be helping us.”
LSU won the 4 x 100 relay last spring, and Shaver plans on using Jackson in the event as the Tigers try to defend their title.
Jackson isn’t just juggling his time between two sports. He also has to fill a new role in the LSU secondary: leader.
The Tigers had the ultimate leader at cornerback the last two seasons in Tre’Davious White, who wore the heralded No. 18 jersey as a result. Safety Jamal Adams also provided a veteran presence for the team last season.
With an inexperienced group returning at cornerback, Jackson is already becoming the leader that he spent last year observing.
“Being a leader is making sure you’re on your books,” Jackson said. “Making sure Coach Aranda doesn’t come to you to tell you you’re doing anything wrong. Always being in the right spot on film. Be that voice for the young guys having been in big games. Helping out in any way possible.”
And yes, Jackson knows that his play on the field will have to reflect his new role just as much as his off-field presence will.
“This spring I’m working on consistency,” he said. “Great plays all the time. Not two great plays and one bad play. I’m just trying to go hard at practice every day I’m out there.”
Without Adams and White, Jackson knows questions will surround the LSU secondary next season. But as he is confident the Tigers will answer them the same way they always have.
“We know a lot of people are sleeping on us because we’ve lost talent,” Jackson said. “But LSU loses DB talent every year. It’s the next guy up. People are going to see we’re ready.”
This spring, at least, Jackson is more than ready to embrace a challenge.