Prattville four-star linebacker Ian jackson explains the process behind choosing Alabama
Ian Jackson, Prattville outside linebacker, sat with his mother Marcia. He felt like he was in the presence of royalty.
Everything around him glistened. Everything seemed to be polished and orderly enough to 'wow' and capture the eye to the verge of being overwhelmed, but somehow made his soul feel at peace.
The trophies placed throughout the room represented the greatness before them. The championship rings that cradled diamonds of glory and triumph were encased by glass on a table inches away from the brown leather sofa on which they sat.
The surreal became the reality of her son’s courtship, Marcia Jackson said.
“I realized the magnitude of the whole process,” Marcia said, speaking of when Ian and his family met with Alabama head coach Nick Saban.
As they spoke with Saban on Alabama’s Feb. 1 Junior Day, Ian said it was “hard to stay focused with all the rings glaring in your eyes,” but what he heard next brought him out of one fantasy into another.
“I had some coaches say Ian was going to be able to play at the next level — was going on to be a Division I football player,” Marcia said, “but I didn’t believe them. I was like ‘OK, they’re just talking.’”
But by January of 2020, she says any disbelief she had was addressed by a rapid recruiting process.
A Rare breed
Ian Jackson got on the recruiting radar and became highly-touted the old-fashion way. He wasn’t hitting the camp circuit like many elite prospects and others aspiring to get the attention of college coaches.
Instead, he said, he let his tape talk and matched it with hard work.
In 2019, Jackson racked up 90.5 tackles, 12 tackles for loss and five sacks en route to second-team Class 7A All-State and first-team All-Metro honors. Add a solid 6-foot-2, 200-pound plus frame and the 29 offers Jackson holds speaks for itself, Prattville head coach Caleb Ross said.
“A coach from Oklahoma called me,” Ross recalled, “and said, ‘Coach, I don’t know if you think that there’s all these guys in the country that are built like Ian, who can run and play football, but coach there’s not. There’s about 15 to 20 guys out there that really have Ian’s skill set.’”
Jackson’s first offer came from Troy in the summer of 2019. But the flood did not start there. Jackson entered the 2019 season with only one other offer outside of Troy, Ross said.
Jackson had to play and produce in season to ring in more, and he did.
He eventually picked up offers from Iowa and West Virginia, Ross said, but as a kid in SEC country, Jackson hadn't received any SEC offers.
Then, Ole Miss called. That was late fall. By January, Texas A&M came knocking. Florida State. Nebraska. Tennessee. Junior day after junior day, offers poured in.
“I’ve had one week where I had five offers in one week,” Jackson said.
And what Marcia once saw as empty promises from coaches materialized.
“Things became real when we went to Tennessee,” Marcia said. “Once we talked to coach (Jeremy) Pruitt and he expressed and talked about how well (Ian) played and what he could do for the program and his skill set and size. I was like, ‘Wow, he’s really going to be able to play.’”
All of this for a kid that took a six-year hiatus from the sport to play travel baseball — a place where his mother says she believed his calling was.
All this for a kid who had to lean on his older brother, TJ Thomas, to help him find that competitive and physical edge again once he started playing again in eighth grade.
“I’m excited for him,” said Thomas, who played at Prattville from 2014-2017. “I’ve seen how fast he’s jumped off and it’s just blown my mind.”
The rumor was Saban was coming to see Ross. According to the whispers around the school, Alabama's coach had changed his schedule to fly in to inquire about Jackson. Some say it was by chopper. Some say he took a private plane.
Nevertheless, Jackson was anxious.
He sat in his history class and the clock could not move fast enough. He wanted to see if it was true.
The meeting was expected to be brief. There wouldn’t be an exchange between Saban and Jackson because of NCAA rules, but that didn’t matter to Jackson.
He was called out of class to get glimpse at Saban. They exchanged a wave and Jackson returned to class. “I was like ‘Wow, this is Nick Saban,’” Jackson said.
Junior day was the next day, and Saban had gone out of his way to acknowledge him.
Days before that, Ross recalls Alabama associate defensive coordinator Charles Kelly telling him: “Hey, we’re going to offer (Jackson). That’s between you and I. He doesn’t know that yet, but Coach Saban is adjusting his schedule. He’s going to fly on Friday to Prattville.”
Ross kept the secret safe until Jackson and his family joined Saban on that brown leather couch.
When Jackson thinks about why he chose Alabama, he reflects on what he saw in that office and says: “I had a decision to make and I picked what fit best for me. I probably wouldn’t be able to sleep if I didn’t pick Alabama.”
During the process, he says he fell in love with Alabama’s scheme and how he would fit in it as a multi-tooled, edge-player who also plays well in space.
“It’s tough to turn (other coaches) down,” Jackson said of coaches such as LSU’s Ed Orgeron and Georgia’s Kirby Smart. “They are heart-warming guys — talk to you like family. They want you, but me and Coach Kelly had a relationship that was unique.”
Jackson has visited some of the best schools in the nation and received some of the best sales pitches of all-time. But irrespective of how fast his recruiting process gained traction, Jackson said he seasoned just as fast— deciphering between what was real and what was oversold.
And Alabama was real.
Considering most of his family attended Auburn — his mother, uncles, and a sister who's currently enrolled — and the depth of the rivalry between the two schools and their fans, Jackson says he never felt any pressure.
Furthermore, in the wake of his decision, he said he has flipped all of his uncles’ allegiance from "War Eagle" to "Roll Tide" in a matter of one moment — May 28, the day he committed.
“I was talking to my mom the other day and she was like, ‘I’ll wear my Alabama shirt, but I’m wearing my Auburn under it’" he said. "I told her she can do that, just don’t let the Alabama fans see it.”
Contact Montgomery Advertiser reporter Andre Toran at AToran@gannett.com. Follow him on Twitter @AndreToran.