Terry Jackson 'back home' with Gators
Published: Friday, April 4, 2008 at 10:59 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, April 4, 2008 at 10:59 p.m.
Defensive tackle Torrey Davis had just been thrown out of practice for fighting and was stomping off the field in anger when a calming life line reached out and tugged on his shoulder.
It was Terry Jackson, the former P.K. Yonge and Florida standout who had been named UF's director of player and community relations just two days earlier.
Davis stopped, and for the next 15 minutes Jackson talked to the troubled sophomore about responsibility, respect, about being part of a team, and the importance of doing the right thing.
Jackson's message must have struck home, because the anger was gone when Davis solemnly walked to the locker room Wednesday afternoon..
"I told him, ‘When you learn to start doing those things that a team does, then you're going to get an opportunity to shine,’ ” Jackson said. "A person as talented as Torrey Davis, you want him to have a chance to shine. Not only can he do great things for himself, he can do things for his family and his university.
"I said, ‘There are little things you can do, that I've done, that have helped me get where I am, that can get you where you want to go, too.’ He actually listened and calmed down. It was a good talk.
"If I can have that effect on guys, I'll be extremely happy, and it will be well worth it."
A large portion of Jackson's new job description can be summed up by his positive work with Davis. He will have many roles in a multi-faceted job, but he said being a mentor for the players is his biggest responsibility.
"I'm not a coach, but I can talk to the players about things other than football," he said. "These athletes need someone to talk to who has been there, someone who has gone through the things they're going through now. One of my major roles is to be a role model."
The players should be able to relate to Jackson. He was a leader on UF's 1996 national championship team, served as the student body vice president (1998), played on back-to-back SEC championship teams (1995-96), and had a seven-year career in the NFL.
"He's everything a Gator stands for," UF coach Urban Meyer said. "He's a little bit of an overachiever and he's first class. One thing I've always admired about him. ... there are Gators and there are fans, and he is a Gator.
"Not one time has he asked about style of this or that, or who's playing. He just wants to know how he can help Gator football."
Over the course of his UF career (1995-98), Jackson played tailback, fullback, outside linebacker, strong safety, and was on all the special teams. That kind of versatility and ability to adjust to different roles should serve him well in his new job. Meyer is giving Jackson many responsibilities.
"There are a multitude of issues he's going to have to deal with," Meyer said. "There's not a better guy that I trust, and he's a true Gator. It's nice to have him.
"He's going to assist in the recruiting office, doing paperwork and things. When young men visit our campus, he's going to be there. He's going to do high school relations, player relations and community relations. He's going to work directly with Keith Carodine (in the Office of Student Life) on some stuff as well."
Jackson, 32, obviously has already begun his mentoring work with the players. And he established a strong connection between the football program and the community weeks before he was hired when he helped spearhead UF's new mentoring program, where 15 players are serving as role models for 15 at-risk black male students from area middle schools. Jackson also is doing some work in front of the camera for UF's Gator Vision.
Meyer said one of Jackson's most important roles is to create a bridge between the UF football team and the community.
"We're dealing with issues," Meyer said. "It's a time in life right now in society we've never experienced. There are a lot of issues going on right now that Terry has witnessed and experienced and fought his way through. He can really impact a lot of young people. He can also help us. There are a lot of positives."
Albert White, a longtime community activist and a driving force behind UF's mentoring program, said Meyer picked the perfect person to establish a relationship between the Gators and Gainesville.
"He's just naturally one who can build bridges, who can relate to the community," White said. "No. 1, he's a likeable guy and you're going to listen to him, and he's very well-respected, which is critical to community work. He relates to young people real well. He's going to be an asset to Coach Meyer and that program and to this community."
Jackson said he's excited about having the opportunity to influence young people.
"The job is kind of evolving as we go," he said. "My goal ultimately is to help people achieve, just help young people reach their potential."
During his Gator career, Jackson was known as a leader and unselfish team player. He was willing to try different positions and play wherever he was needed.
He was the same kind of player at P.K. Yonge, Blue Wave coach John Clifford said.
"He's always been a role model. Since forever," Clifford said. "I kind of got accused of playing him out of position (at fullback). Steve Spurrier asked Terry why he didn't play tailback in high school. He was so unselfish. Whatever it took for the situation, he'd do it. He was extremely coachable."
Jackson said he has too many favorite moments from his UF career to count, but that two stick out — his touchdown run (and dive into the end zone) that clinched the national championship victory over Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, and being buried under the celebration pile at the Georgia Dome after the Gators defeated Alabama in the SEC title game to earn a shot at the national title.
"That dive in the end zone is something most Gator fans remember," Jackson said. "It was the icing on the cake. Me being a life-long Gator fan, to win that championship was really an awesome moment.
"Another one was after that win over Alabama. I almost got crushed under the pile after the game. I couldn't breathe, but at the same time I was laughing. (Safety) Teako Brown pulled me out and I said, ‘You saved my life.’ It was a great feeling."
Jackson said he experienced another great Gator moment just a few days ago, when he accepted Meyer's job offer and put the Gator attire back on in an official capacity.
"I couldn't stop smiling," he said. "It was so great putting back on the Gator stuff and being in the locker room. I was always a Gator, but now it's in a real capacity. I'm back home."
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