Drake Jackson Q&A: Part I
All-SEC center Drake Jackson is the latest person in the Kentucky football program to go on the record with Cats Illustrated as we all navigate COVID-19 and an uncertain sports landscape.
Here's Part I of our Q&A.
CI: How are you handling times like these? Are you getting cabin fever or doing enough to stay occupied?
Drake Jackson: It's a little bit of both. I'm not sick of being in one spot. It's not having stuff to do. What I'm doing is talking to people. I talk to friends, I talk to family. I train kids. Usually in my free time I'll talk to them and their parents, just trying to help them through whatever it is they're going through in terms of their high school football career.
Of course, my generation plays video games so that's involved. Taking the dog out for walks and working out. I try to get my walks in with the dogs and I take runs, a pretty long distance. It's hard. A lot of stuff is body weights but I've got some weights that I use.
After four years of being in a college weight program you kinda learn to do a bunch of different things. You don't need 500 pound weights to get a good workout in. They send over stuff so that's helpful. My body's really sore now because I've gotten a good workout in the last couple of days.
CI: So you have everything you need in terms of equipment, in order to be able to come back in decent shape?
Jackson: Herschel Walker apparently never lifted a weight until he was in pros or the college, I can't remember exactly which one. I'm not Herschel Walker but it goes to show you can get good workouts using body weights, running, hitting the hill, doing pushups, situps, box squats, jumps. Just doing stuff fast at high intensity will give you some good burn.
CI: You got some postseason accolades after this last season. Depending on who's doing the awarding, first team in some cases. How satisfying was that?
Jackson: So after the 2018 season the only postseason honor I got was from Phil Steele. He had me third team. That was very cool. And then this year, after 2019, I was AP first team all-conference. And that's a strange feeling, trying to describe it. But it's one of those things where, when you grow up a college sports fan, a sports fan, you're watching guys on TV and you're like, 'Wow, I want to be just like them. If only I could get to the point where I'm a college football player.'
Never did I imagine I would be first team all-conference. Of course that was a goal. But you never know it's going to actually happen until it does. That's the standard. That's what you're always looking up at. Like Jon Toth was an All-American, first team all-SEC in 2016, my redshirt year. It's like, 'Oh my God, he's a legend. If only I could ever get to that point.'
Then here you are, your junior year, selected first team by the media. That was such an incredible honor. I'm not going to say I deserved it but I think I earned it. I don't want it handed to me but I think the proof was in the pudding. But I couldn't have done it without the other guys on the line.
CI: You used to have that overachiever label. Dating back to high school. It feels like you've kind of outgrown that to where people just talk about you more as a great player. Do you sense that, or do you still feel like people give you that earlier label?
Jackson: The overachiever description, mindset, whatever you want to call it, has totally been an asset for me. I remember all the way back in 8th grade. I was on an all-star team. We were on the bus and of course we all think we're hot stuff because we're the Kentucky all-star team. We're talking about playing Division I football. I remember talking about it. I was the smallest lineman on our starting five in middle school. I remember saying I'd love to play in the SEC. One of my coaches looked at me and said, 'Son, don't get your hopes up. I don't know if you're going to be big enough.' I remember being like, 'Oh buddy, I can't wait to prove you wrong.' Then obviously it happened.
I remember some of the analysis from the recruiting websites. One of them said, 'He's likely close to his ceiling,' coming out of high school. I remember being like, 'Oh, so I'm not going to get any better?' Or, 'His size will limit his ability to climb to the second level,' or, 'It'll hurt him in the SEC against 6'5 SEC defensive tackles.' I'm not saying I wrote it down and put it on a bathroom window or in my bedroom but, you know what, I couldn't wait to be the underdog and to prove them wrong.
That almost gives you a better toolset to work with. If it's expected for you to be all-conference, it's harder. It's almost easier when it's not expected. It gives you motivation to prove those people wrong. It's worked out for me. It hasn't stopped. Of course, the next goal is to reach the NFL but first we have a big season coming up.
CI: How does Coach Schlarman assess your play with you?
Jackson: Coach Schlarman is going to give it to you straight. He will never, ever, ever tell you that you've arrived. That's not something I ever want him to do. In fact, when we have our one-on-one meetings it's understood that I want him to coach me up hard and it doesn't matter if it's one-on-one. It doesn't matter if it's in front of the o-line, in front of the offense, in front of the whole team. I can handle the coaching. I want that on me. I want that pressure on me. Tell me what I'm doing wrong. Tell me what I'm doing right, but I want to hear what I've got to get better at. That's what makes you coachable. When you emphasize the negative, that's going to make me a better player.
The old saying is when your coach stops coaching you that means he's given up on you. I'm sure that's very true at every level. Coach Schlarman is such an incredible coach. I appreciate that. I give him all the credit. But that's kind of what I try to emphasize to the young guys. That coaching, that butt-chewing you got, when you were ripped on the field, that's good for you. That's his job. Some guys have a hard time understanding that.
CI: Will you coach one day?
Jackson: There's no doubt.
CI: At Kentucky? Is that one of the goals?
Jackson: I remember, I want to say my freshman year. I was taking a late night moped ride (laughing). You know where that roundabout is on the press box side of the stadium? There's a roundabout up top between the practice field and the new baseball stadium. I'm sitting up there looking at the facility and the stadium lights are on. The facility was brand new. All the lights were on inside. You could see the giant Kentucky outline of the state in the weight room. I remember thinking that this is where I want to spend the rest of my life. That's where I want to work in the future. It's where I want to play college football and no matter what happens after college that's where I want to be at some point. I just felt such a sense of pride in that moment.