Football

Drake Jackson backflips into Week 4 matchup

The star linebacker made his presence felt with a strip sack in Week 3, and he’s looking to continue wreaking havoc.

A photo of junior linebacker Drake Jackson in a cardinal and gold uniform trying to rush the quarterback against San José State.

Practice and perfection go hand in hand, and with another week of practice in the books for USC football, fans can look forward to another standout performance from junior linebacker Drake Jackson at home Saturday against Oregon State.

In last Saturday’s win over the Washington State Cougars, Jackson racked up four tackles and his first sack of the season, forcing a fumble in the end zone that led to a recovery for a touchdown. Jackson was named Pac-12 Defensive Lineman of the Week in the 45-14 comeback victory over the Cougars.

Defensive coordinator Todd Orlando said Saturday’s performance highlighted Jackson’s perseverance.

“I think any coordinator will tell you that there’s no magical call if you’re a really good player stepping up and making some really good plays, like Drake is an example,” Orlando said. “That goes back to the back end, because he’s been really, really close. And you know, the last two games just the ball has been thrown before he could get there. And he finally covered them in the back end long enough for him to get to the QB. And those turn out to be critical plays.”

Jackson said getting his first sack of the season was especially significant because it put points on the board.

“It felt great man, it felt relieving too just to get the sack, knowing that all the hard work has finally paid off,” Jackson said. “Finally getting around the edge to make that sack, sack fumble for a touchdown, which made it even better.”

Being a focal point of USC’s defense is nothing new for Jackson. As a freshman in 2019, he immediately impacted the defensive line. He had 46 tackles, including a team-best 11.5 for losses of 60 yards (with a team-high 5.5 sacks for minus-44 yards), plus three deflections, a forced fumble and a safety. During the 2020 season, he achieved 20 tackles and one interception while starting six games.

For a player who gives 100%, it’s amusing that Jackson bears the nickname (and the jersey number) “99.” Jackson said the nickname is nothing new.

“It just kind of happened. I’ve always been 99 problems,” Jackson said. “I’ve worn 99 all my life. So that’s always been a thing for me.”

For a 6-foot-4, 250-pound linebacker, his athleticism is unmatched. Jackson says doing the unexpected is his thing.

“Really, I just had to come into my name with just doing things that I’m really not supposed to be doing, that people that don’t really see as a big person doing it,” he said. “I’m always doing it.”

Jackson’s athleticism shows in other aspects too. Even with his height, the linebacker can backflip. He looks back to when he first tried, outside on a trampoline and on solid ground. “One time I was just like, man, I want to learn to backflip.” He said a friend taught him the basics.

“I knew I had the athleticism to do it on the ground and I first tried it at the beach,” he said. “It was my freshman year of college and I did it at the beach and it was just me and the homies, and we were just chilling. I was like, bro, I’ll try a backflip if you try a backflip. We tried it and I ended up landing it.”

His talent doesn’t just show in backflips, though. During the 2020 season he was named to the All-Pac-12 Second Team, AP All-Pac-12 Second Team and Phil Steele All-Pac-12 Second Team.

The awards go hand-in-hand with the direct impact he’s made on the team, Orlando noted, as highlighted in Week 3′s strip sack.

“He expects to do a lot, you know, when he’s so close to it, to finally finish one,” Orlando said. “And in the end, it was a really good play that got turned into a great play.”

The defensive coordinator explained Jackson’s rising confidence and their expectations for the rest of the season.

“So those plays just help confidence because sometimes you get in a little bit of a rut, and it’s not his fault,” Orlando said “It’s just the ball’s been coming out faster than he can get to the QB. But now he’s got an opportunity to continue on with that. We expected that in the beginning of the year, but it’s nice to see him get rewarded. He worked his tail off last week, because his GPS numbers were the highest we’ve seen and he was rewarded for it.”

Jackson said he’s feeling confident coming into this weekend’s home game against Oregon State, which kicks off Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

“I just can’t wait,” Jackson said. “It’s another chance to go get that quarterback and make some money.”