This season, DeSean Jackson is coming home to where he first developed both his game-breaking speed and his distaste for losing.
In March, the three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Rams for $4.5 million, marking his return to Southern California nearly two decades after being one of the most sought-after high school recruits.
Long before establishing himself as one of the NFL’s all-time fastest deep threats, or becoming a two-time consensus All-American at Cal, Jackson was a determined junior wide receiver coming off the biggest loss of his young career — a 21-17 defeat to Loyola High School in 2003’s CIF championship game. Jackson never forgot the feeling of walking off the field second best and the work it took him and his teammates to become champions a year later in their senior season. Jackson that year was named Los Angeles’ Player of the Year in 2004 and went on to become MVP of the 2005 U.S. Army All-American Bowl, which featured 80 of the nation’s top players.
“For me, being a top recruit and trying to be one of the best players on the team, I wanted to just go back and help my team anywhere possible to win the game,” Jackson says. “The next year I just wanted to work so hard and be in a position that I don’t have to witness losing in a championship game again. The loss brought me and my teammates much closer because we did not want to go through that again. We worked harder than ever over that year, and went on to beat Los Alamitos the next year in the championships.”
Now entering his 14th NFL season, a physically healthy Jackson, who reunites with head coach Sean McVay after spending several seasons together in Washington, has been working to prove wrong the skeptics who think he’s lost a step after missing most of the past two seasons.
“I’m in shape and happy to be back home and playing for the Rams,” the Los Angeles native says. “It would be great to end my career in Los Angeles. Hopefully we can accomplish some great things here.”
Another factor in regaining his Pro Bowl form is the chance to play with another recent Rams pickup, quarterback Matthew Stafford, who the Rams traded for in January. In this week’s Winning Strategy, Jackson explains how acclimating to a new team environment, working to get in sync with your teammates, and staying game ready year-round can help lead to enjoying some of your hard-earned accomplishments.
“I’ve been watching Matthew for a long time,” Jackson says. “So for us to be on the same team, I’m fired up. I’m looking forward to getting started with our workouts.”
1. Lead with Your Personal Style
I feel like everybody’s different when it comes to leadership. People have different roles, and you have different types of leaders with different perspectives. As athletes, not everybody’s gonna be that big, rah-rah leader who’s gonna yell at everybody to motivate. You have people who lead by example — those who just go out and show them how it’s done. It depends on your personality, but it’s important to be true to who you are. Be authentic — don’t be anything else but what your true self is.
For me, regardless of what type of characteristic you have as a player, just be coachable and you know, be willing to build with your teammates. Don’t be a guy who’s selfish or who won’t listen.
2. Get Your Timing Right
Coming to the Rams, it’s sort of a familiar position when I played with Sean McVay in Washington, so I kind of know how he runs his program. I also know a lot of guys on the team and am familiar with how they play.
As a receiver, what’s most important is coming in and establishing a relationship with your quarterback. Obviously, that’s huge … it’s so important to have that timing down with your quarterback. If you don’t, when game time arrives, he’s not going to know your moves or how you’re going to run a certain route. So when it comes to a good quarterback and receiver tandem, after a few months and enough practices with each other, you’ll begin to see those tendencies. You’ll know what he likes, and he’ll know what you like. It could take a few months, but the offseason program is good for that.
Being able to work with Matthew Stafford and get on the same page is a huge challenge, but there’s a lot of fun to look forward to. It just comes down to putting in the time.
3. All-American Game Plan
You gotta be dedicated. I think you must put the time and effort into it. Consistency comes with kinda knowing what you’re doing , and continuously doing it at a high level. I’m a smaller guy, so what I would do is different from what Aaron Donald would do. So whatever it is, find your niche and just keeping training at a high level.
First, as soon as the season ends, I’ll take a good amount of time, maybe a month or two and let my body heal. I’ll use that time to reflect on what I need to better myself in. Once I start up again, I’ll usually work out once a day during the offseason. I’ll hit the track first thing in the morning, then the weight room. I like to switch it up. I feel like once you get into the season, the coaches are going to work you pretty hard. So you just got to do enough to stay in shape for camp.
4. Work for Your Wins
Honestly, you just have to put the work in if you want to accomplish anything. Everybody wants to be a pro athlete, a Hall of Fame player. They want to get all the glory and accolades and Pro Bowls and All Pros. . But in order to make it you’re among a select few. Everybody wants to achieve it, but only a certain few are able to accomplish it because they’re willing to go over and beyond. So if you have an over and beyond mentality, you will accomplish and get things done with that attitude.
To be a pro athlete, it’s good to have the talent, but if you don’t have the work ethic, it really doesn’t matter how much talent you have — you’re only as good as the work you put into it. I encourage all little kids, even professionals, in order to be the best you can be, you gotta have that work ethic. If you’re not working today, then you’re not getting as great as you can be. Have the mindset of nothing you have has been given to you and everything you have, you worked for it. Go get it and you’ll accomplish it.
5. Embrace Your Achievement (You’ve Earned It)
I think the moment for me that sunk in that I had made it in the NFL was in 2010 against the Giants when I took the punt return back for a touchdown to end the game. That moment was kind of surreal for me because, playing in the NFL and being able to be the first and only player to end a game with a punt return touchdown was a special moment in my career. It felt like such a big deal, because I was the first person in the NFL to do it, and the league’s been around for a long time, so for me to be able to do that, it was unbelievable. I couldn’t believe it.