Bobby Jackson, now retired and living on his farm in Alpine, coached for 21 seasons in the NFL, most notably as offensive coordinator and running backs coach for the St. Louis Rams’ “Greatest Show on Turf” offense from 2000-2002 under head coach Mike Martz.
Jackson, now retired from coaching, resides on his farm in Alpine with his wife, Nancy.
“My story is not so much about me,” Jackson said. “It’s about what God has done in my life. I want to make sure I tell you that and all of you understand that I would never have been able to do this without what God has done in my life.”
Sporting a 2001 NFC Championship ring and a sweater with the Rams logo on the collar, he began his speech with a few jokes to break the ice before candidly detailing events that played a role in his journey through life.
“I grew up in rather poor and humble surroundings,” Jackson said. “I grew up in a dysfunctional home where all I heard — and maybe some of you are like this — where all I heard was negative words. ‘You can’t do that!’ ‘You can’t play football!’ ‘You can’t go to college!’ ‘You’ll never amount to anything!’”
The negative comments didn’t stop when he exited his front door and went to school.
“My teachers used to say, ‘You’re going to be in reform school.’” Jackson said. “All I heard was negative, negative, negative. Some of you may be in the same type environment. Both from my family and everybody else, all I heard about was what I couldn’t do.”
The constant barrage of negativity caused Jackson to develop low self-esteem as he developed in his early years.
“I grew up needing to draw attention to myself,” Jackson said. “Some of you may be like that right now. You may feel like you need to draw attention to yourself. I figured out there were two ways to draw attention to myself — one was sports, the other was getting into trouble. I was a whole lot better at the second one of those.”
Jackson recounted the first time he tried out for football as a 98-pound seventh-grader living in Smarr, Ga., wearing a uniform that was a bit oversized for him.
“I had been out there for three days, and I never will forget this — the coach didn’t even know my name,” Jackson said. “I thought I was doing pretty good. He goes, ‘Hey boy, come here!’ So I go trotting up and he said, ‘Boy, I’m going to take your uniform away from you and give it to somebody who can fill it out.’”
His coach made good on his word, taking the uniform off of Jackson in front of his peers and giving it to another player.
“Guys, that hurt,” Jackson said. “That was the defining moment in my life. At that point in time, I developed a passion for football. I said, ‘I’m going to show you, coach, and I’m going to show myself.’ I didn’t say it to him, but I said it to myself. I’m going to show the coach and myself that I can do this, that I can play this game rather than going, ‘Oh, football is not for me. The coach didn’t like me. He took my uniform away from me.’ I decided not to play the blame game.”
But Jackson said outside distractions prevented him from achieving that goal right way.
“I started getting into trouble and running with an older crowd,” Jackson said. “I started drinking a little beer on occasion, a can or two of beer, doing all sorts of things I wasn’t supposed to do. I went back out for football again in the ninth grade and had some success, but I stayed in trouble in high school. I got kicked off as president of the freshman class, got kicked off the basketball team my senior year, kicked out of the school cafeteria my junior and senior years. I know my high school career wasn’t a total loss because I know at least three mothers who used me as a bad example.”
Despite these obstacles, Jackson became the first person in his family to attend college, enrolling at South Georgia Junior College, now known as South Georgia College, in 1958 and walking on to the school’s football team coached by Bobby Bowden.
When Bowden became the head coach of Howard College, now known as Samford University, the following year, Jackson followed. Jackson played as a running back and defensive back, twice earning small college All-American honors.
After college, Jackson coached two years at the high school level before he crossed paths with Bowden again while he was a wide receivers coach at Florida State University.
“I called him and said, ‘Coach, I want to come coach at Florida State,’” Jackson said. “He said, ‘A lot of guys do.’ I told him, ‘I’m serious. I want to come coach at Florida State.’ He told me, ‘We don’t have any money.’ Then I said, ‘I’m not asking for any money.’”
The phone conversation resulted in Jackson working for FSU’s coaching staff on a voluntarily basis for a year before he was hired on full-time, essentially spring boarding his coaching career.
“I coached for nothing, for free, because I had a passion for coaching,” Jackson said.
Forty years of coaching later with a Super Bowl appearance under his belt, Jackson stressed to the students to push toward their goals.
“I tell you this simply because of the fact that if somebody like me coming from where I came from, with God’s help, I was able to coach in the Super Bowl,” Jackson said. “Now a lot of you may be saying, ‘Well I don’t want to coach in the Super Bowl.’ Well, that’s not the point. The point is you can get to the height of whatever you want to do if you believe you can, you want to do it bad enough and you don’t listen to all the negative talk about ‘You can’t do this,’ or ‘You can’t do that.’”
Through all the humor and all the reminiscing, Jackson stressed what he believed to be one of his responsibilities — to pass along to the students that they can achieve their goals if they adopt a can-do attitude, refuse to play the blame game and show a willingness to put in hard work and determination.
“I have a passion for this and I speak to a lot of high school teams and a lot of college teams,” Jackson said. “I like to see guys grow physical, spiritually and mentally in every way. God’s done so much in my life that I feel I need to share my story.”
Jackson’s speech seemed to rub off on WHS junior Michael Garrett who plays on the school football team as a left tackle and defensive end.
“We didn’t have a very successful season last year,” Garrett said. “Listening to him kind of gave me hope in a way to think we could go on this year and actually be undefeated. It also makes me want to pay more attention and do my work in class. Scholarships don’t just come from playing on the field. You have to have good grades.”
Katelyn Shirey, an 11th-grader who serves as part of the Senior Beta Club and plays softball, said she was able to pull positive messages from Jackson’s story.
“I think we can all take away from his speech that we can’t blame other people for what happens and we need to take responsibility for ourselves — not only in sports, but especially in school,” Shirey said. “Kids need to learn to seize the opportunity when they can to be better. They can’t just blame it on someone else that they’re not as good as they want to be. You need to further yourself. You need to have a determination and a drive to want to be better.”
Contact Shane Dunaway at firstname.lastname@example.org