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Former USC stars Jackson, Smith-Schuster enjoying pre-draft process

Adoree' Jackson and JuJu Smith-Schuster were laid-back at the Trojans' pro-day this week. The two former USC stars are enjoying the pre-draft process as they prepare for life in the NFL.

LOS ANGELES — Adoree’ Jackson has a few “grown up” things to do before he starts to interview for his first job as an NFL player. First, he’s got to finish his spring classes (he’s taking a communications course and a class where “we watch movies, and try to figure out how Orson Welles’ movies relate to people in the present”). Then he’s got to get his wisdom teeth pulled.

Jackson, who won the 2016 Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s best defensive back, hasn’t ever had a true off-season. A track and field standout at USC—he won the 2015 and ’16 Pac-12 titles in long jump, and participated in sprints—Jackson typically went right from the football field to the track, and then back to the football field. That left little time for things like time-consuming dental procedures. But now that he’s merely training for the NFL, Jackson’s got a few extra hours each day.

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Jackson participated in USC’s pro day Wednesday, where representatives from all 32 teams were present, including former Trojans head coach and current Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll. Besides Jackson, former USC receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, offensive lineman Zach Banner and running back Justin Davis were among those participating.

Jackson, who ran a 4.42 40-yard dash time at the combine last month, opted not to run again. He told reporters afterward that, “When you turn on the tape, you see Alabama, Notre Dame, a lot of games with me chasing guys down. In my opinion a 40 isn’t a description of how fast a guy is. I’m a strider. That first 40 isn’t enough for me, but once I open up … like Usain Bolt, once he opens up, it’s ugly.”

Some things weren’t ugly on Wednesday, though, including Jackson’s juggling skills, which he showed off while catching punts. Lauded for his gifts as a punt and kick returner, Jackson said he’s happy to fill multiple roles at the next level.

Asked what an NFL team will get if it drafts him, Jackson answered simply with, “a playmaker. A play creator. You can punt the ball to me, one hop, I’ll take a punt return (back) … I’ll pick up a fumble, create a fumble. You can throw me on offense … just creating plays. The wow factor.”

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Jackson and Smith-Schuster, the youngest participant at the Combine last month, were the main events on a cool, casual day at USC. There were overcast skies and the atmosphere was so laid back that Smith-Schuster did drills with his baseball cap on backwards. It was especially nice, he said, to be back in the California sunshine because “when I was in Indiana it was freezing.”

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Afterward he explained that the saying stitched onto his cap—“In God We Trust”—is a mantra he’s adopted during the pre-draft season. “When I’m stressed out and worried about it, that’s when I start losing it,” said Smith-Schuster. “You’ve gotta trust the process.” 


Minutes later, he admitted with a laugh that while he’s trying to ace his interviews, he’s honest with teams when they ask about his hobbies. While he does not drink or smoke, he still likes to party occasionally. He is, after all, just 20 years old.

That youth might have played a part in Smith-Schuster missing a trivia question at the combine. Smith-Schuster said the strangest question he received in team meetings was, “Who is the 35th president?” After presenting that same query to the media scrum gathered around him Monday, Smith-Schuster implored reporters to venture a guess. “Kennedy!” came a confident voice from the back. Minutes later, someone confirmed that John F. Kennedy was, in fact, the 35th president of the United States.

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Smith-Schuster acknowledged that it would have been “a huge story” if both he and Jackson had returned to USC for the 2017 season. The Trojans, with NFL-bound quarterback Sam Darnold, are projected as a top-five team. And yet, Smith-Schuester said, “We did the most we could’ve for this team. We were in sanctions, we brought them out of sanctions. We dominated and got them to the Rose Bowl.”

Jackson agreed, then said him and Smith-Schuster training for the pros at the same time was nice—for a reason that might catch some people off guard.

“Now that we’re not competing against each other … it’s pretty fun seeing him do his drills,” said Jackson, who spent limited time as a receiver while at USC. He finished his career with 39 catches for 628 yards. “I know all the things he can do, and now to see him display it to everyone else, it’s pretty fun.”

Jackson is scheduled to workout for a team on March 28, then have his wisdom teeth pulled. He’ll have just a few days to recover before his first official job interview on April 6.