It happened in the driveway waiting outside the family’s Pompano Beach home. That’s where Lamar Thomas first says he recognized greatness in Lamar Jackson.
He was there to see Jackson again, to sell him on Louisville as the first recruiter in line — and the only one for a long while. Jackson and his mother, Felicia, pulled up in their car. Sand spilled out as they exited.
“Where were you?” Thomas asked.
“Working out on the beach,” Jackson said.
This was after a regular practice at Boynton Beach High. Thomas heard of the workout, of the drills, and brushed up against enough greatness as a Miami Hurricane and Miami Dolphin to recognize how it looked, felt, even smelled. It smelled like sweat. Like Jackson that day.
And so Thomas merely chuckles when asked if any of this surprises him, Jackson returning home Thursday as the NFL’s most electric quarterback to play the Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium.
“I’d be surprised if he wasn’t that guy,” he said.
Everyone sees it now. Jackson was the NFL’s Most Valuable Player in 2019. He’s the first quarterback in NFL history to pass for 2,000 yards and run for 600 yards in eight games this season.
He brought his team back from 14 points down against Minnesota last Sunday — the third time he has in that situation this year. Watch his feet, he’ll beat you with his arm. Watch his arm, he’ll beat you with his mind.
“He’s a fighter, he’s a finisher,” Baltimore linebacker Patrick Queen said after the Minnesota win.
Yet what is a given by now for Jackson, at 24, is met with equal parts grief and shame for some locals. The only South Florida team to show much interest in him at his various stages were the youth-league Pompano Cowboys.
Terrance Blue, a Cowboys assistant, told their coach, Ron Thurston, he needed to get a certain 8-year-old kid on his team before some rival picked him up. So Thurston got Jackson. The team never lost.
But as he moved up the ladder? Jackson was slapped with a middling three-star grade as a high-school recruit, turning off the star gazers. Even when Thomas tried to get his boss, Louisville coach Bobby Petrino, to look at the video of Jackson, it took two or three times before Petrino’s eyes opened.
“Can we really get this guy?” Petrino then asked.
Thomas nodded. Miami, Florida, Florida State were all too late to the recruiting party. Thomas, a life-long Cane, remembers Miami sending a limo to pick up Jackson and his mother for the ride to Coral Gable so very late in the process.
“He had just been to the dentist, too — he couldn’t talk,” Thomas said. “It was one more thing that added up to him going to Louisville.”
Jackson won the Heisman Trophy there as college’s top player. Neither that nor the electricity to his game much mattered to NFL scouts. All 32 teams passed on him. Four quarterbacks were taken before him.
The hometown Dolphins were in the market for a quarterback, team owner Steve Ross even suggested in the draft room they could trade down and take Jackson.
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The Dolphins became just another team to pass on him. Baltimore did once, too, in taking a tight end at 25th overall before having the vision to trade up for Jackson with the last pick in the first round of the 2016 draft.
Now everyone sees in a manner few ever did. He comes back home now, back to where it all started, not that it much matters to him at this point.
“It’s football,” he said. “I’m just having fun regardless. I don’t care where I play it.” Then, as an afterthought, he added, “But it’s cool, I guess.”
Quarterback movies are in vogue. Kurt Warner’s “American Underdog,” his run from the Arena League to the Super Bowl. Tom Brady’s “Man in the Arena” tells of his going from fifth-round pick to the game’s greatest.
Wait until Jackson assembles his full story. When he left home for college, his mother, who raised him after his father died early in his youth, had a tattoo put on his forearm: “Mark 6:4.”
The scripture reads: “Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives, in his own home.’ “
He’s a prophet of football, and he’s home, among those so many who didn’t believe. By now, everyone does.