Cornerback Asa Jackson is by no means a quiet player.
“Hungry and humble” is one of the sayings that Jackson lives by — at least that’s what he says. On the field, the picture is painted a bit differently.
According to his teammates, Jackson is a player who almost always follows a good play with a good amount of smack-talking.
“I really like feeding off other people’s energy and trash talking is just part of that,” Jackson said.
Jackson talks trash loud and often. He often warns his teammates not to get him started because a simple warning is much better than getting his jaw moving. Sometimes, he mouths off to quarterback Andre Broadous, warning him if he runs on offense in practice, Jackson will make him pay for it.
“He is a cornerback, so he is a little cocky, but he’s supposed to be that way,” Broadous said. “He knows that he’s good and he’ll let you know that he’s good. We talk a lot of smack to each other in practice.”
Whatever Jackson says, it is safe to say he backs up his talk. He was one of two freshmen to start for Cal Poly in 2008. After he racked up 42 tackles, forced three fumbles and nabbed two interceptions, Jackson was named Great West Conference Freshman Player of the Year.
Last year, it was nearly the same story. He was named a first-team All-Great West conference defensive back and was named preseason Great West Defensive Player of the Year this season.
“He may not be the fastest or the biggest guy out there but when it comes down to it, he plays like it,” linebacker Marty Mohamed said. “He is someone I can trust out there on my defense to make plays for me.”
The amount of success Jackson has had in such a short amount of time may seem a bit peculiar for a guy who didn’t even think he was going to play football in college.
In high school, Jackson was a track and field star. He also played quarterback and rushed for 1,120 yards and passed for 963 more, yet the offers he received from colleges weren’t appealing. Just two weeks before national signing day, Sacramento State, UC Davis, Northern Arizona and other small schools were some of the few which showed interest. With just a few offers, Jackson debated trading in his cleats for track shoes. He planned to walk on at USC or Georgetown for track, he said.
Then former Cal Poly offensive coordinator James Shields gave Jackson a call.
“(He) calls me up at school and says ‘Yea we just saw your tape. We are actually really interested in you, is there any way you can come down for a visit?’” Jackson said.
He agreed and Shields drove to pick him up in his hometown, Sacramento, that weekend and took him back to San Luis Obispo. After the weekend visit was through, he took him back home.
The sentiment was enough to convince Jackson his football career wasn’t over.
“I signed that Wednesday,” he said.
Within the first couple of weeks, Jackson moved to cornerback. It was somewhat familiar to him, since he and his childhood friend Brandyn Thompson, a starting cornerback for Boise State, trained over summer doing defensive back drills. Thompson’s father, who played with the Dallas Cowboys, taught them to be cornerbacks, he said.
But not even the best preparation could get him ready for going up against star receivers Ramses Barden and Tre’dale Tolver in practice. Barden was one of the most decorated receivers in Cal Poly’s history, and Tolver was a track sprinter with big play ability.
“After going up against those two guys, the games were the easy part,” Jackson said. “The receivers that I played in the game weren’t nearly as good as those two guys, so going against that kind of competition … really did raise my play and that for sure helped me.”
It showed in his first career game, a week-one match up against San Diego State.
At first, his inexperience as a freshman was put on display. Aztec wide receiver Roberto Wallace hit Jackson with a double move. He bit and ran past him for a 30-yard touchdown. Before the pass, the Mustangs seemed in control of the game 16-7. After his mistake, San Diego State was within striking distance, trailing only 16-14.
At this point, Jackson didn’t have many plays under his belt. This was one of the few he had in a real game setting and this one didn’t necessarily leave a positive memory. As Jackson headed back to the sidelines, he was determined to prove to his teammates he was better than this, he said.
“I am going to get one back for you guys,” he told them. “We are not losing this game.”
He was right.
The next drive, Jackson jumped a quick slant, grabbed the interception and took it back 46 yards. With his help, Cal Poly went on to upset the Aztecs, 29-27.
“Everybody always has that story in sports where they called out the home run or whatever: I can recall that one,” Jackson said. “It was a great feeling. I feel that that’s when my Cal Poly experience started.”
Plays like these over the years have established him as one of the leaders of the Cal Poly defense. With success comes confidence and Jackson is using that confidence to teach his fellow defensive backs to be just as dominant as he has.
“He has taken over the defensive backs and he kind of established himself as the leader,” Mohamed said. “He is a hard-working guy and he is dedicated to what he does.”
But at this point, there isn’t much more Jackson can accomplish. About the only thing left for the already decorated junior is a national championship — the last thing on his checklist, he said.
“I want to win something big,” Jackson said.
When he and his team get there, it may be safe to say Jackson will be one of the first to brag about it.