Antwuan Jackson may have arrived at Ohio State with a broken foot, but he was also carrying with him a mended heart.
As one of the top high school recruits in the nation in the 2016 recruiting cycle, Jackson could have gone anywhere he wanted. There is always a need for a talented defensive tackle, and so he was a high priority for every school who thought they had a shot.
The Buckeyes were one such school, and even maybe for a while they thought they were going to land him.
Instead, Jackson signed with Auburn over Ohio State, leaving Urban Meyer and defensive line coach Larry Johnson disappointed in the work that they had put in.
Jackson went to Auburn, but struggled as a true freshman and redshirted.
It turns out, Jackson knew he had made a mistake pretty early on.
“Of course I was at Auburn, I was thinking about transferring out and and I was just thinking to myself that I need to be somewhere to try to be better as a person, be better as a player,” he said.
Prior to his transfer, one of the major things holding Jackson back from seeing the field was a lack of effort and willingness to strain. In other words, his heart just wasn’t in it.
While he was at Auburn and thinking of transferring, he was also thinking about possible destinations, including Ohio State and Larry Johnson. Jackson and Johnson became very close during his recruitment, which is one of the reasons why he never stopped thinking about the Buckeyes.
“It’s really because of Coach Johnson, we just have that great connection,” he said. “He inspired me to be great as soon as I got here. I mean when I committed to Auburn, I just heard rumors that after I committed there, he just walked around the facility, wasn’t talking to nobody, moping around and stuff. So when I was at Auburn, I just felt like I needed to be here.
“I thought about it right when I committed there. I mean when I was thinking about transferring, he was the No. 1 person on my mind.”
When Jackson told Auburn that he wanted to transfer, they were fine with it. They did, however, block him from transferring to any other SEC schools…and Ohio State.
Why did they block him from transferring to OSU? That’s a question that only Auburn can answer.
For Jackson’s family, however, they weren’t too happy with it.
“They were frustrated,” he said. “One thing, they wanted me to be in school. I didn’t want to be out of school for the summer time. I enrolled early so I wanted to graduate early. What’s the point of leaving high school early if I don’t graduate early. I needed to be in school. I love being at school.”
So Jackson transferred to Blinn College in Brenham, Texas. His sights were set on eventually ending up at Ohio State, which gave him a clear mind and a full heart. He parlayed both into an All-American season at Blinn. He finished second on the team with 70 tackles, first with 9.0 sacks, and third with 10 tackles for loss.
Jackson used his time at Blinn to better his situation, and also to better himself.
“I just felt like I gained my confidence back from high school,” he said. “I played like I did because I had confidence again.”
Ranked the No. 1 junior college prospect in the 2018 class, Jackson was thrilled that Ohio State was recruiting him again, and had no problem signing with the Buckeyes this time around.
“Oh it was really easy,” he said. “I still had coaches calling me like Nick Saban and Coach Pruitt and stuff. And when [Pruitt] got his other job, he was trying to come get me still.”
Despite other coaches and schools calling, it was the desire to be coached by Larry Johnson that ultimately brought Jackson to Ohio State.
“I’ve known Coach Johnson since sophomore or junior year,” he said. “I love that man to death. He inspires everybody here, everybody loves him. He’s like the best of the best in the country. Everybody loves him.
“His spirit. Just how he carries himself. That’s why I love him. I treat him like my dad. That’s how he’s treated by the whole team.”
Now that Jackson has arrived at Ohio State, he said his next goal is to earn the trust of his teammates. He hasn’t been able to work out as he’d like due to his broken foot, and spring football may be delayed some for him because of it as well, but he wants to do what he can to prove to those around him that he belongs.
It has been a circuitous journey for Antwuan Jackson, which is why he is so appreciative that Ohio State was still willing to bring him in.
“Coach J and Coach Meyer, they gave me the opportunity and I got that chance and I cried a little bit, I really cried that they still thought about me,” he said.
“And now I’m here.”