DeSean Blazing Trail Toward Heisman?

Punt returning dynamo one of top receivers in game this season

July 30, 2007

By Chris Huston

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Chris Huston

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You might say that DeSean Jackson prefers to take the road less traveled.

As the No. 1 prep receiver in the nation in the recruiting class of 2005, many naturally assumed he would sign with USC. That's where all the top SoCal talent goes, right?  And, after all, his high school, Long Beach Poly, had a long tradition of players who have gone on to play for the Trojans. 

But Jackson isn't your average cat. He resisted the siren song that had swayed so many before him and instead offered his services to Cal

He hasn't looked back since.

Now, the 6-foot, 172-pound dynamo is blazing his own trail as the most exciting player in college football.  With two strong seasons under his belt, he is primed for an all-purpose run at the Heisman Trophy.  He enters the season at No. 8 on the HP Preseason List.

"Being considered for the Heisman is a big honor for me," said Jackson, who caught 59 passes for 1,060 yards and nine touchdowns last year while accumulating 1,572 all-purpose yards.  "Me and my teammates have been working hard all off-season and I'm very proud to be considered. I couldn't do it without my teammates, though."

Such modesty will serve him well in the race, but one can be forgiven if sometimes the perception is that Jackson is a one-man show. Seeing him create in the open field on a punt return is quite a sight to behold.  If he is given a yard on the field, he seems to have no problem taking 50 more. Last season, he cashed in four punts for touchdowns to set a Pac-10 record. The All-American averaged 18.2 yards per return to lead the nation and was awarded the inaugural Randy Moss Trophy as the nation's top return man. But to hear Jackson speak, it all comes naturally.

"I really just try not to think too much when I'm back there," said Jackson, who has returned five of the 26 punts he has fielded for scores. "I just react. To be put back there on the spot like that is something I love to do."

In the process, his play brings back memories of some of the great all-purpose players in college history. It's no wonder, as he's been trying his best to emulate them.

"Since I was a youngster, I've looked up to Desmond Howard," said Jackson. "I always play him when I play PlayStation. He was just so versatile that I always wanted to make myself like him. Then there is Peter Warrick. I looked up to him, too, and watched as much film as possible on him, trying to learn his tricks."

They've been watching him, too.

"I met Warrick, he's a good dude and down to earth," said Jackson.  "He told me to make sure I catch the ball first and foremost and not to worry about running with it.  I met Howard, too, and he told me that he's been keeping an eye on me and to keep up the good work."

So, what does he have to do to get to the level of a Warrick or a Howard?

"I've got to work on my physical strength," said Jackson.  "And I need to keep improving my quickness, speed and footwork."

It helps that Jackson was always fleet of foot.  He ran track as a sophomore in high school and had a best of 10.6 in the 100-meter dash, but then he traded in his track spikes for football and baseball cleats. By the time he was a junior, he was a major prospect in both sports. He was helped along the way by the guidance of his family and a fantastic work ethic.

"My brothers and my dad knew pretty early that I had talent," said Jackson. "Every Sunday morning, when everyone else was asleep, we'd go down to the park and work out. I learned back then to give sports everything I had. I loved to play sports and learned to give 110 percent to get better."

It has paid off well.  He enters the season as everyone's All-American and has a chance to really make some noise in the Heisman race. Naturally, he'd have to keep on returning punts for touchdowns (he's only three away from the NCAA record of eight in a career) and another 1,000-yard receiving season is a must as well. But Jackson realizes that the team will be central to the Heisman cause.

"Everyone always dreams of the Heisman growing up," said Jackson. "But you have to do well as a team. I think this year's Bear team has a chance to be really special. I can feel everyone growing together. We've been together for a while now and I think we have a chance to win the Pac-10 championship and a national championship."

And then the accolades will come. 

Maybe even a trip to New York City