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April 25, 2008At the start of the 2007 college football season, former Appalachian State wide receiver Dexter Jackson felt like he had a legitimate shot at making it to the National Football League. During that time, Jackson was of the belief he would be a seventh round selection or at worst a rookie free agent signee with a team in need of a speedy return specialist.
Following the Mountaineers 34-32 upset of Michigan, and Jackson's explosion onto the national scene and the cover of Sports Illustrated, his stock started to rise ever so slightly. In fact, it was just two short days after the big win that Jackson heard from his first agent, Brian Ayrault, expressing interest in helping him make his NFL dream a reality.
"[Ayrault] called me on Monday after the Michigan game and said, 'Dex, I feel like you can make it on the next level. I don't know if you've talked to any other agents but I would love to come show you what I can do to help you make your dream come true.'
"So, he drove up to Boone a couple days later and we sat and talked. He showed me how he would market me and what he could do to get me into the NFL. I talked to about four or five other agents over the course of the year and decided after the season that Brian was the best fit for me. I signed with him two days before Christmas."
After his conversation with Ayrault, Jackson said it began to hit home that he might actually have a shot at landing in the NFL. It was then that he dedicated himself even more to his lifelong goal. He began placing an intense focus on his schoolwork, on his discipline in the weight room and on the field and how he carried himself everywhere he went.
Anyone that knows Jackson understands that all of these things were priorities to him already. However, due to the close eye NFL teams keep on players they may potentially invest mega bucks into, keeping on the right track became even more important.
"This opportunity really motivated me and kept my mind focused on everything I had to do to keep my chances at the NFL a reality," Jackson said. "That was what I had to do, and after looking in to others, Brian is the guy that understands how to market me and get me to where I want to be. He really cares about helping me get to the next level and not just collecting the commission from me getting drafted. He helped me understand that, so when I was able to sign it made sense to choose him."
Prior to his signing with Ayrault (players are not allowed to sign until the season is complete), Jackson said his stock began slowly rising, but like any other "small school" standout there were questions of whether or not he could consistently play on a high enough level to compete in the NFL. Yes scouts saw that he was capable of putting on a show when he stunned the Wolverines, but many were still unsure if he could sustain such a high level of performance. Once the season was complete, Jackson said his opportunities to participate in the Senior Bowl and East-West Shrine Bowl ultimately shot him into day one draft discussions.
"Then when I went to the combine, that really was the major difference maker. That changed everything. That is when teams really started looking at me in higher rounds."
With his stock rising rapidly, Jackson now finds himself projected as a late second to early third round selection. Now just one day before the NFL Draft begins, Jackson has six teams that are expressing high interest in making him a part of their organization. As it stands now, Jackson is expecting to hear his name called by one of the following:
Atlanta Falcons - Rd. 2 - Pick 3 (34), 6 (37), 17 (48); Rd. 3 - Pick 5 (68), 35 (98)
Kansas City Chiefs - Rd. 2 - Pick 4 (35); Rd. 3 - Pick 3 (66), 10 (73), 19 (82)
Cincinnati Bengals - Rd. 2 - Pick 15 (46); Rd. 3 - Pick 14 (77), 34 (97)
Philadelphia Eagles - Rd. 2 - Pick 18 (49); Rd. 3 - Pick 17 (80)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers - Rd. 2 - Pick 21 (52); Rd. 3 - Pick 20 (83)
Green Bay Packers - Rd. 2 - Pick 25 (56), 29 (60); Rd. 3 - Pick 28 (91)
Jackson said the Packers and Eagles are the newest teams to express interest, as each have called his agent within the last couple of days. As for visits, Jackson took two trips south to meet with potential suitors, Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
"I think Atlanta and Tampa Bay are pretty serious about me," he said. "They flew me down to meet with the coaches, owners, general managers and tour their facilities. I went to Tampa the first Sunday of April, the sixth, and went to Atlanta on the ninth and 10th.
"While I was in Tampa Bay I met with all the coaches, the owner, the general manager and went up and watched film with the scouting director for a while. I was there with DeSean Jackson and Limas Sweed, so we were really meeting with everyone at the same time.
"I met with Coach (Jon) Gruden for about 10 minutes by myself and he just talked about how the decision was based on finding what they want and who fit the best. They told all three of us that they would basically love to have us on the team."
While each of the three are projected at different points in the draft, it is clear that Tampa Bay has chosen which receivers it would prefer to draft based on where the pieces fall in each round. With Sweed and (DeSean) Jackson both rated higher than (Dexter) Jackson, ASU's own could be headed to the Sunshine State should the Bucs not draft one of the other two in the first round or early second.
With all of the projection talk swirling around, Jackson said he's just excited to have the opportunity. But with the day he's been waiting for all of his life inching ever so closely, Jackson said a sense of nervousness and excitement is starting to creep in.
"I'm a little bit of both right now to tell you the truth," Jackson said with a chuckle. "It's almost like the feeling you get when you're in high school and you decide on the one school you'll be going to. It's kind of the same feeling.
"The difference is in the process, though. When you're choosing a college you are in control. You get to choose between the schools that have offered you a scholarship. With this, the teams are the ones making the decision, you just have to sit back and hope you've impressed them.
"I'm kind of nervous about it, but I'm definitely excited. It feels like the minutes are getting longer and longer. I just can't wait to get the phone call from a team saying they want to make me part of their organization."
So, with draft day just around the corner, Jackson says his plans for the big day are already set. Because the first team won't go on the clock until 3 p.m. EST, Jackson will have a lot of time to kill early Saturday morning, and chances are, not many other future NFLers will be spending their time in the same manner that Jackson will.
"Around 11 in the morning we'll gather up a bunch of my family and friends and go bowling," Jackson said. "We'll have a little tournament between us to pass the time and just keep my mind clear and off of everything that will be going on Saturday. After that we'll meet up at my dad's house before three o'clock, have some finger foods and watch the draft on T.V. together. We'll just enjoy ourselves and have family time while we watch to see what happens."
If Jackson's name is called during the second round, the next step in the process is to board a plane on Sunday or Monday and fly out to the team's headquarters for a press conference in which he is introduced to the media. Once that is complete, Jackson would likely head back home for a few days before joining his new team for a rookie minicamp.
With the biggest day of Jackson's young life less than 24 hours away, it hasn't quite sunk in yet that his dream is about to be realized and he says it won't until the good news comes through his phone on Saturday.
"It hasn't sunk in yet, but it will when I get that phone call from the team that says they are ready to call my name."