On his first tour of SoFi Stadium, Los Angeles Rams receiver and L.A. native DeSean Watson recalled growing up decades earlier playing youth sports at nearby Darby Park.
So, it only seemed appropriate that the 34-year-old Cal product had an opportunity to finish out his NFL career where it all started as kid playing football, signing a one-year, $4.5 million deal to join the Rams.
“For me to be here on my stomping grounds in an area that I’m very familiar with, there’s not a better feeling, man,” Jackson said. “I look at it like almost when LeBron (James) went back to Cleveland and won a championship for Cleveland, Ohio. So, that’s what I’m here for, that’s all I’m really worried about. I’m at that point in my career where I’m not worried about myself anymore. I’ve accomplished a lot of things -- Pro Bowls, 10K-plus yards, the accolades are there. At this point in my career, I’m about winning, man.”
Jackson said he contacted Rams head coach Sean McVay about the possibility of reunited with him during free agency. They two became close when Jackson was unceremoniously released by the team the drafted him in the Philadelphia Eagles in 2013.
The Washington Football Team’s offensive coordinator at the time, McVay and then head coach Jay Gruden helped Jackson go through a mid-career rebirth during his three years with the team.
Jackson said that time was important because McVay and Gruden did not see him as just a deep threat in their offense.
In three seasons with Washington from 2014 to 2016, Jackson totaled 142 catches for 2,702 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He said McVay not only used him on deep routes, but also hitches, wide receiver screens and other underneath routes.
“It was a great thing because when you hear about DeSean Jackson, you always think about a one-trick pony or you think about him going deep as a vertical threat,” Jackson said about working with McVay in Washington. “But it’s like, no, we’re going to use him where people don’t think that we’re going to be utilizing him. For me, that’s something that was very intriguing to be able to come back and reemerge with somebody that really knows me. … he knows how to utilize me and he’s going to put me in the best positions to win.”
Jackson said he’s spoken with Rams receivers coach Eric Yarber, cornerback Jalen Ramsey and quarterback Matthew Stafford. And he plans to connect with defensive end Aaron Donald, along with starting receivers Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods.
A talented punt returner during his time in the NFL, Jackson also hinted at the possibility of performing those duties for the Rams in 2021.
“I can't give you all the information,” joked Jackson. “Me and Sean McVay were just talking about this, I'm not going to spill all the beans, but we got some things to be excited for. Just hold on, hold your horse a little bit, you’ll see (laughs).”
One thing Jackson will have to prove during the upcoming season is staying healthy. The electric receiver has only played in just eight games over the last two seasons due to various nagging injuries. Jackson said he can play another two or three seasons.
“I’m feeling great,” Jackson said. “I'm feeling that I’m 100 percent healthy. The rehab process has been going very well. Especially good to be back home to use some of the greatest trainers I have here to take advantage of that. So, it's still at the point where we're in March, I haven't hit the ground running, crazy yet. Just kind of easing my way back into it, but the process has been great.
Jackson is also thankful to be back in his native Los Angeles, feeling that this is the right time to play the last few years of his NFL career in his hometown where he can have more impact as a mentor and role model for kids in his hometown.
“Being born and raised here in L.A. is very personal for me,” Jackson said. “I feel like able to have that upbringing and background, being able to be raised here, when I go all across the world it’s like a demeanor that you carry yourself with. It’s a swag you have.
“So, for me to be back here in L.A., I feel like I know the inner city very well, I come from that. I just want to reach back help pull people out of the poverty, the slums where we’re stuck at. We don’t really have an opportunity to get out of there and go see that things are different.”