Former Maryland cornerback JC Jackson hit a crossroads shortly after arriving at the University of Florida, the school with which he signed in 2014 as a four-star defensive back out of Immokalee, Fla.
Jackson suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery at the beginning of the 2014 season, forcing him to redshirt. He then recovered in time for spring ball in 2015, and was expected to take on a prominent role for the Gators the following fall.
DJ Durkin, who was at Florida from 2010-14, helped recruit Jackson to the Gators. Durkin took the Maryland head coaching job in December 2015 and needed to add talent across the board. He brought in Jackson, who started 23 games at cornerback for the Terps from 2016-17 and recently announced his intention to declare for the 2018 NFL Draft.
"I just changed the way I look at things, man," Jackson said. "Durkin always told me, 'When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.' You live and learn. I just matured. I just had to carry myself … it's hard to explain, but I don't know, just being around Coach Durkin, he just really taught me how to be a man.
"Just being in that program, period, being in Maryland, period -- I got away from home, I wasn't in Florida no more, I was just focused. I told myself, 'This is football; this is all I've got. I'm going to give it my everything.' So I put the [BS] to the side and concentrated on football. I was a man on a mission. Before I got there, Durkin said, 'You're a man on a mission.'"
Jackson had one interception, broke up six passes, forced a fumble and made 40 tackles in 2016. He built off that performance in 2017, picking off three passes, breaking up seven more and making 40 tackles.
One of Jackson's interceptions
this year came against Northwestern in October. He was named an All-Big Ten honorable mention performer.
Jackson was tasked with covering the best receivers in the Big Ten. In the Big Ten East alone this year, Maryland defensive backs took on Parris Campbell and K.J. Hill of Ohio State, DaeSean Hamilton and Juwan Johnson of Penn State and Simmie Cobbs Jr. of Indiana. They also saw Tre'Quan Smith of UCF during nonconference play.
"I loved it. I love competition. It was a great experience," Jackson said. "And then guarding DJ Moore every day in practice, it made me even a better cornerback, so when I got into the game, it wasn't as hard. It was easier."
Jackson may impress at the NFL Scouting Combine Feb. 27-March 5 provided he gets invited; listed at 6-foot-1 and 193 pounds, Jackson has the size and physicality NFL teams crave in order to match up with big receivers on the outside. But he's flying under the radar for now: he does not appear on
CBS Sports' top cornerback prospects
for April's draft.
Jackson wants to follow in the footsteps of Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Stefon Diggs, Pittsburgh Steelers safety Sean Davis and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue as Terps who have excelled at the highest level despite not being first-round picks.
"No matter what school you're at, winning or losing, as long as you're putting in the work and you're balling, it can happen," Jackson said. "They really motivated me though, like, OK, these guys from Maryland, he's balling. You didn't hear about them coming out, but now you hear about them. They're making a lot noise.
"Stefon Diggs, Sean Davis -- I didn't know about them until I got to Maryland. I knew about [Ngakoue], but then the other dude, [Jaguars defensive end] Dante Fowler, I knew him at Florida, so I knew both of those guys. They're both pretty good."
Maryland went 10-15 during Jackson's two years in College Park, Md., but he's confident -- "I don't think, I know," he said -- that the Terps will win big under Durkin. Maryland's 2017 season started promisingly when it dropped 51 points at Texas Sept. 2, but the season fell apart after it lost both of its top two quarterbacks to ACL tears.
"There are going to be some great things at Maryland while DJ is there. Trust me," Jackson said. "There are going to be some great things. They've got a bright future, I'm telling you. I'm going to always be a Terp. Go Terps, man."
For more from Jackson about Maryland, his preparation for the NFL Draft and how he spent Christmas, listen to the full interview here: