Skip to main content

Newcomer Profile: Jayden Jackson's Unique Path Has Prepared Him for Life at Oklahoma

The freshman defensive lineman has quickly acclimated to the program in Norman thanks to the college-like atmosphere at IMG Academy.

NORMAN — Landing in Oklahoma wasn’t on Jayden Jackson’s radar entering high school.

In fact, rerouting his football career through IMG Academy wasn’t the original plan.

The Indianapolis product was originally slated to attend high school in Brownsburg, IN, before deciding to attend the preps football factory in Florida.

“My cousin was going there and they didn’t really reach out to me or anything,” Jackson said earlier this month. “… It was kind of like a blessing. I just tagged along with my cousin.”

Santana Alo-Tupuola, a freshman center at Georgia Tech, was the reason Jackson landed at IMG Academy. And without the shift in approaching football that he needed to succeed in Florida, Jackson may have never ended up on Oklahoma’s radar.

“I feel like if I was at a different school it wouldn’t be the same outcome,” Jackson said. “Just what they do, it’s kind of like a mini college. … I think that best prepared me.”

Competing every day at IMG helped shape Jackson, who ended his high school career rated as a 4-star defensive tackle by 247Sports and Rivals and a 3-star prospect by On3.

Jackson picked Oklahoma over Florida, Miami, Ohio State and Texas, and he arrived with IMG teammate David Stone as a duo that projects to change the face of the Sooners’ defensive interior in OU’s first years playing in the Southeastern Conference.

More Newcomer Profiles

More than just a space-eater, Jackson projects as a physical defensive tackle that can take on blocks and disrupt the running game, a skillset that freed up Stone to get after opposing quarterbacks in high school.

Part of his development was working against talented offensive linemen at practice and battling other defensive linemen for playing time.

But the growth off the field helped Jackson fit right in during his first few months at Oklahoma.

“I had no structure. I had no time management,” he said. “I was consistently being lazy and here and there. I didn’t have a routine. So going there, the structure, the routine, everything, it shaped me to who I am now.

“I feel as if I had went to my old school, I wouldn’t have gone to where I am now. I felt IMG blessed me with everything I needed.”

From there, the offers started to roll in.

Jackson made an impact at nose tackle, but he feels he’s not limited to just one spot along the defensive line.

“I played wherever they put me,” he said. “ … I don’t really see a difference. I feel like it’s the same technique. … I don’t feel like there’s a big difference.”

As he garnered more and more attention, he built a deep relationship with Oklahoma defensive line coach Todd Bates.

Having Stone close didn’t hurt anything, but Jackson’s initial plan was to merely commit wherever Stone ended up.

“It wasn’t really a big factor,” Jackson said. “We both have goals. … Everything ended up falling in line, which was amazing to me. It wasn’t our goal, but as soon as I committed, I saw the goal. I needed him to come.”

Jackson’s bond with Bates has only continued to grow since arriving in Norman.

“Hanging out with him, I’ve played with his kids,” said Jackson, “… they’re kind of like a second family. I can depend on them if something happens out of football. It’s really close. I think that’s amazing from him.”

Jackson’s only gotten a week on the field truly working under Bates, as spring practice kicked off last Monday, but he’s already gotten used to strength coach Jerry Schmidt.

Wasting no time this winter, Oklahoma’s staff got to work helping Jackson add plenty of weight to his broad frame.

“They want me pretty heavy,” Jackson said. “I came in at 279-280. I’m already at 297. I’ve gained quite a bit. It hasn’t effected me at all. Running on the field, I don’t feel different at all. My mindset was different in high school. I thought it would (effect me), but college is different.”

Brent Venables has never wanted his defensive line to play light, but it’s especially important to be physical at the point of attack every week in the SEC.

Packing on pounds is only one portion of the work Jackson has to do this spring to carve out early playing time come this fall. He also has to be a technician.

“Technique is really big,” Jackson said. “I have to master that. But even if we don’t, we’re going to keep working even if we don’t. But that’s the goal though.”

Bates has all the knowledge his young defensive tackles need to succeed, but Jackson’s position coach hasn’t been his only resource since arriving on campus.

Returning defensive lineman Da’Jon Terry has taken on a much larger leadership role this offseason, something Jackson is thankful for.

“He’s probably our defensive line leader. He’s helped me and Stone amazingly,” Jackson said. “Everything from his knowledge on the field, from off the field, from little techniques here and there. Actually the whole room, they coach us really well. It’s competing to win.

“It’s been amazing. If I have a question here and there, they’ll instantly help me.”

Jackson and Stone were highly touted defensive line prospects before stepping foot on campus, but the forced medical retirement of Jacob Lacey opens up more snaps for both of the new faces to get on the field in 2024.

Those opportunities will serve as extra motivation throughout the spring, but Jackson’s mindset hasn’t changed since arriving in Norman.

He’s had the same drive since moving to IMG Academy. His motivation is bigger than just football.

Jackson wants to be able to succeed and give back to his family, a mindset that fuels him every day.

“I need to make it for my family no matter what,” he said. “Even if it’s not football, I need to make it for my mom and the people that have sacrificed so much for me.”