On the day Rayshad Jackson signed with Florida back in 2015, the doubters quickly latched onto the lightly recruited prospect from Miami and haven’t let go, their number only growing over the course of his time in Gainesville.
Now, heading into his redshirt junior season, Jackson is lining up to shoo away all those doubters, and shut them up for good.
“I’m excited to prove all the doubters wrong,” he said.
Jackson is in a position to do that now.
After seeing most of his playing time on special teams in his first two seasons, Jackson is now looking at getting serious and substantial reps on defense following a strong spring, a good summer and an even better preseason camp so far.
Jackson is getting a lot of snaps with the No. 1 defense. Even if he doesn’t start, he’s solidly in the playing rotation at both inside linebacker spots.
He’s earned it.
“He’s doing a great job,” linebackers coach Christian Robinson said. “He’s a guy that listens and puts in extra time. I’m very similar to him. I like to watch tape, I like to talk about what’s going on and just, ‘Hey, what would happen if this happened?’ He cares. If you’ve got a roomful of guys that care you’re going to be successful.”
Jackson has cared all along, even when he wasn’t seeing much, if any, playing time on defense. He kept working hard in practice, sometimes on the scout team, and kept hustling and making plays on special teams, where his athleticism and striking ability made him a key player.
Then Jackson really started to care when coach Dan Mullen and his staff took over the program. The arrival of a new coaching staff meant a new chance for Jackson, and he grabbed it and ran with it in the spring.
“During the off time before the spring I had to sit down and evaluate myself,” he said. “In spring, it was a new defense, it was new to everybody. I had to take advantage and progress. And that’s what I did.”
Jackson made a good early impression on Robinson and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham with his hustle and instincts, and things have kind of progressed from there.
He pushed the starters for playing time last spring and eventually ended up seeing practice time with the starting defense. He’s pushing for a starting role now at inside linebacker alongside junior David Reese.
“Rayshad has done a great job of getting in the playbook and just attacking it,” Reese said. “He is going to be the guy that’s going to put in the extra time and do what he needs to do in order to get on the field. As long as he knows what he has to do he is more than capable of making plays on the field.”
Jackson definitely knows what to do on the field. He buries himself in Grantham’s defensive playbook for hours every day, even now during preseason camp.
“All the time, every night, every time after practice, in the morning,” he said. “About eight hours a day.”
Jackson knew the old playbook well, also. But that wasn’t enough to convince the former coaching staff to play him much on defense.
He said the former coaches were among his doubters.
“It was not so discouraging, it was just sad because I knew I could play,” Jackson said. “But they didn’t trust me. That’s it.
“I guess the last coaching staff, in my opinion, they didn’t trust me enough to play me. The new coaching staff, they trust me and I can go play now.”
Even though Jackson will be getting his chance to play on defense this fall, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He’ll continue to play on special teams.
That’s the kind of player he is — a team player,” Robinson said.
“I just see him wanting to give his best for the team. I see him trying to want to be his best and be a part of this linebacking corps and contribute.
“I told everybody if you think you’re going to play all 90 reps, you’re kidding yourself. I’d like to have a room full of guys playing 30 reps and maybe having some younger guys get in there when we do what we’re supposed to do. I see him not kind of stressing out, he’s just trying to be a part of the group and be the best he can be.”