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A Dream Come True
Yuba City native Andrew Jackson drafted
Andrew Jackson needed something, anything to get his mind off of it.
After months preparing for the NFL Draft, the Yuba City native was through with 40-yard sprints, shuttle runs and blocking drills. The last thing he wanted was to sit around and ponder his future in pro football.
During ESPN's incessant, three-day draft coverage, Jackson chose to hit up the Sacramento River with friends for some fishing.
"I got skunked," he said.
Though his day on the river was unsuccessful, the phone call he received on Saturday ended up being a tad more fruitful.
The Atlanta Falcons selected Jackson as the seventh pick of the seventh round in the 2011 NFL Draft, the 210th overall selection.
Jackson wasn't sure what to think when the Falcons called him because so many teams had given him "maybes" throughout the earlier rounds.
While on the phone with Atlanta, the team was in the process of deciding whether to pick him or not.
"They told me to hold on for a minute and all I could hear was somebody yelling in the background, 'We're doing it!,'" Jackson said. "I was on the phone when I saw the pick come across the screen."
There it was in bold letters just below Mel Kiper Jr. on ESPN, "Andrew Jackson OL/Fresno State."
Jackson stayed on the line as the phone was passed around between members of the Falcons' hierarchy, including general manager Thomas Dimitroff and head coach Mike Smith.
Though he spent most of his time at guard in college, Jackson hopes to play three positions with the Falcons. He said being able to play both guard and the center positions is imperative for an interior lineman in the NFL.
Everything remains a mystery for Jackson now due to the NFL's lockout.
Jackson said he has been working out with former Fresno State teammate and New England Patriots lineman Ryan Wendell to get a feel for an NFL offseason training program.
The biggest advice Wendell gave Jackson was to be prepared to make football your occupation.
"It becomes the only thing you do," Jackson said. "In college, you're still relatively close to family, but when you get to the NFL you are completely separated. If you enjoy and love it that much, you're OK."
It won't be a big transition for Jackson, who has been involved in the game since he could stand.
Jackson lived in Yuba City until eighth grade. He attended Lincoln Elementary, Central Gaither and Tierra Buena schools, while participating in the Sutter Surge, Yuba City Junior Honkers and Sutter Junior Huskies youth football programs.
One of his closest friends growing up in the Mid-Valley was fellow local standout Jordan Holmes, former University of Oregon star.
"I remember growing up it was all orchard and farmland and now it's all houses stacked on top each other where I used to live," Jackson said.
Jackson moved to Grass Valley and spent his prep career at state football powerhouse Nevada Union where his Miners went to two Sac-Joaquin Section Division I title games, winning the crown his senior year in 2005.
He was named the Sacramento Bee's Player of the Year that year and was the valedictorian of his 2006 graduating class.
Nevada Union coach Dave Humphers remembered bringing up Jackson as a sophomore to the varsity team. He had to wait midway through the season for Jackson to turn 15 to make the move, which he wished he could have made when Jackson was a freshman.
"He is a great example for young guys coming up who dream about their future and love football," Humphers said. "Andrew was the ultimate student-athlete. He is going to make a bigger difference for the Atlanta Falcons than they realize."
At Fresno State, Jackson was a two-time All-Western Athletic Conference selection. In 2009, he led the way for 2010 first-rounder Ryan Mathews (San Diego Chargers) to lead the nation in rushing.
Jackson missed the majority of his senior season with an ankle injury that required surgery, though he impressed scouts with his performances in the East-West Shrine Game and the NFL Combine.
"No one had a tougher senior season than Andrew Jackson," said Fresno State coach Pat Hill. "It was tough on him and tough on us as a team to not have him in the lineup. He's as tough and smart as they come. He's a proven player, and I expect he will make his mark in Atlanta."
A resounding theme across scouting reports on Jackson is that he plays with a "mean streak." Humphers and Hill both said you won't find a player who works harder.
Making the jump from college to the professional ranks won't be easy though.
Defensive linemen run the 40 times of college running backs, studying protection schemes can seem like quantum physics and earning a spot on an NFL roster decides one's livelihood.
Jackson said he can handle it.
This has always been his dream but it wasn't until the 2007 Humanitarian Bowl when he faced two defensive linemen from Georgia Tech, who now play on Sundays, that he realized he would be able to hang.
"For me it was a huge challenge, but it showed I can be right up there with them," Jackson said. "It took everything I have. I can definitely get up to that level."