When recruits gathered to form a huddle around USC tight ends coach Justin Mesa following a drill at the Rising Stars Camp this past summer, the message was not necessarily an uplifting one for some optimistic Class of 2013 prospects.
With redshirt sophomores Randall Telfer and Xavier Grimble and freshmen Jalen Cope-Fitzpatrick and Junior Pomee on the Trojans’ depth chart, there wouldn’t be a pressing need for a tight end in the current class, recruits were told. The news was hardly surprising, but it caught the attention of Class of 2014 athlete Vincent Jackson (Tampa, Fla./Jesuit).
“They got us in a group and basically told us they were sorry, but they weren’t really looking for a tight end this year,” Jackson recalled. “I’m not really sure how that affects my year, though.”
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Jackson might not feel the impact either way. He is being recruited at a variety of positions by schools across the country, but was offered specifically as a linebacker by USC coach Lane Kiffin. Jackson, who reports more than 30 scholarship offers, plays mostly tight end and defensive end for his high school.
“The thing is, tight ends coach for USC likes me a lot, but everyone, even Coach Kiffin, wants me to play defense,” Jackson said. “There are some schools that want me at tight end, mostly because it’s rare to get a big guy like me who can also beat defensive backs. I run good routes. When I was at the USC camp in the summer, I played tight end the first day and beat the elite safeties they had there a number of times. Coach Mesa really likes me a lot. Even before I came in to the camp, he said I was the main person they wanted at the position, but right now I prefer playing defense. Tight end is still an option, though. That’s where Oregon offered me to play.”
The Trojans have competition from in-state schools Florida, Florida State and South Florida, as well as Georgia and fellow West Coast schools Oregon and Stanford for Jackson. But there’s a wild card that puts USC in good standing and might keep the Trojans at or near the top of Jackson’s list until he makes a decision.
“One of my best friends, Nelson Agholor, is playing at USC now,” Jackson said.
Jackson had USC as his leader following the summer visit to Los Angeles, but the glow wore off as he made unofficial visits to schools closer to home. Still, the camp experience left a lasting impression.
“That was a great experience for me to get a chance to work with the USC coaches,” Jackson said. “USC was a nice school. I don’t get to see the West Coast schools as much, so being able to see them was good. They welcomed all the recruits with open arms. For us to actually stay on campus that week was a great experience.”
Jackson hopes to gather more information on every school and intends to make decision at some point next year. USC, Oregon and Stanford are the only West Coast schools under consideration, Jackson said.
“Everyone has their favorites,” Jackson said. “Right now I’m liking Florida, Georgia and Florida State -- schools from my area and schools I’ve seen very often. It’s easier for me to like them over schools I haven’t seen yet. Hopefully I get invited to The Opening next year and can make it out west.”
Despite the national attention, Jackson did not make the early ESPN Watch List, which he attributed that to injuries and other setbacks.
“I’ve been hurt since last year and playing with broken bones in my wrist,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve played a game near 100 percent yet, but I’m still trying to produce. Once I get completely healthy I think it will be a different story.”
At this point, four-star Michael Hutchings (Concord, Calif./De La Salle) is the only linebacker in the current recruiting class. A quick look at the depth chart -- starters Dion Bailey, Lamar Dawson and Hayes Pullard would all be seniors for the 2014 season -- might indicate that the numbers work in Jackson’s favor next year.
“I like USC a lot,” he said. “They’re in my top schools for sure and will probably be there until I make a choice.”