DeSean Jackson wanted signature footwear for his signature playing style.
To get there, Jackson signed with boutique sneaker label Brandblack. Led by founder and designer David Raysse, the company had previously made only basketball shoes, including a signature sneaker for Clippers forward Jamal Crawford. With Jackson, Brandblack goes beyond the hardwood.
“It is a good opportunity in my career,” Jackson tells SI.com. “Really, with people not knowing the name, Brandblack, I can get them out there in the football world with the (signature) DJX. They give me that level [of freedom] where I can have my own shoe.”
The three-time NFL Pro Bowler, returning to the field from a hamstring injury, will debut his signature DJX cleat this weekend, just one of two signatures Jackson will have with Brandblack, as he’s also working on a DJX trainer.
For the on-field cleat, Jackson says he aimed to create a comfortable fit in a stable and lightweight mold. “On the field if a shoe is too tight, that is the last thing you want,” he says. “You don’t want something uncomfortable that you can’t perform in.”
To start the design process, Raysse tells SI.com he met with Jackson and went over his individual needs for functionality on the field, quickly realizing that Jackson was playing in a lacrosse cleat for the narrower fit and streamlined form. So Brandblack did something that others don’t: created a mid-cut speed cleat, giving both the brand and Jackson a look that's already outside the norm in football cleats.
This original version starts with a high-strength thermo-plastic cleat and an upper of lightweight fused composites with patterns that morph and change. But Raysse says he hopes that over the season of fine-tuning and experimentation he can have the first DJX serve as just a starting point.
“We don’t want him starting the season in something radically different,” Raysse says. “I will experiment with some wacky ideas I’ve got moving forward. And from seeing the way he moves and what he gravitates toward, we will experiment with how minimal we can get.”
From an aesthetic point of view, Raysse says the company’s shifting patterns play heavily on the cleat, complete with a pronounced aqua blue bottom.
Jackson says that early on there hasn’t been a ton of time to work on the creative side, as Brandblack hustles to get the cleat ready for the field, but during the off-season, Jackson says he’ll get even more involved, giving input on everything from materials to aesthetics.
Already, though, his new cleat has his teammates talking. “Shoot, a lot of them are asking for a pair [already],” he says. “They are as excited as I am. Hopefully I can get it in their hands.”
Jackson won’t have just one signature look this season, though, as he helps create a speed trainer for workouts and daily wear. “Off the field, all my training is speed and quickness,” Jackson says. “The agility work, the cones, training with my track coach and keeping my speed.” He does it all in a trainer. As he splits his off-season training time fairly equally between on-field work and in the gym, he needs two footwear options.
Brandblack has put him in their brand-new Force Vector trainer to start, but is hard at work on the DJX signature. The first prototype went to Jackson a few weeks ago, but the DJX won’t look anything like the Force Vector in terms of style. “The upper is radically different,” Raysse says. “He says ‘I’m a swaggy dude,’ so it is fun to work with him. He’s definitely on the wild side and he’s not afraid of any of it.”
In keeping with the theme of speed, the DJX off-the-field shoe will serve as a speed trainer. And you can expect the new visuals to set the tone for future on-field options.
It all starts here for Jackson and Brandblack, a chance for the two to bring a new style of cleat to the public and NFL in a unique way.
“Yes, sir, I’m excited about my first opportunity to do that,” says Jackson.
Tim Newcomb covers stadiums, sneakers and training for Sports Illustrated. Follow him on Twitter at @tdnewcomb.