As longtime assistant college football coaches on the recruiting trail, Fred Jackson and Michael Locksley occasionally went after the same high school players. Their professional rivalry grew into a friendship despite a 20-year difference in their ages.
That relationship, which began in the early 2000s when Jackson was in the midst of a 23-year career at Michigan and Locksley was in his first stint at Maryland, helped the 49-year-old Locksley land his biggest recruit since being hired in December.
Jackson’s son, Virginia Tech quarterback Josh Jackson, announced via Twitter on Monday that he committed to the Terps. A redshirt sophomore, the younger Jackson is expected to graduate this spring and will have two seasons of eligibility remaining.
Fred Jackson said Wednesday that his friendship with and respect for Locksley were the biggest reasons he encouraged his son to pick Maryland over the two dozen schools pursuing him, including Florida State, UCLA and Utah.
“When you put your kid in another coach’s hands, I wanted Josh to know that I know the coach,” Fred Jackson said. “I knew Locks and I always thought he had a great offensive mind. I knew the things they did at Alabama, Josh can do.”
Josh said Thursday his father was “pretty adamant” about him giving Maryland serious consideration over schools with longer and more successful histories of success.
“He knows Locks, and being in the Big Ten, it was something to look at and check out,” the younger Jackson said. “That’s what kind of got it going.”
Josh had never met Locksley or any of the other coaches before his visit to Maryland.
“It was really good just getting to talk with them, hang out with them, go out to dinner a couple of nights,” he said. “Everything felt smooth, like an easy transition for me. They were pretty upfront with me, and I respected that.”
Recalling the recruiting battles he had with Locksley — including two he won head-to-head that saw running back Walter Cross and linebacker Cato June pick the Wolverines over the Terps — Fred Jackson said, “You’re not going to find a better recruiter than Locksley.”
“He works his butt off and he’s good at it,” the elder Jackson said. “When you’re out there doing the extra time and working and going the extra mile, you’re only going to see a few people left out there on the track. But Locks is out there on the track.”
In accordance with NCAA rules, Locksley is not allowed to comment on Josh Jackson until he signs a national letter of intent, which will likely come after he graduates in May.
The elder Jackson said both he and his son were impressed with the presentation Locksley and his staff, in particular offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery, made to them when they took an official visit last weekend.
“Locks had taken every throw Josh had made at Virginia Tech and put it on one reel so he could study everything about him,” Fred Jackson said.
While Fred Jackson spent most of the visit with Locksley looking at film from 2018, Locksley’s one season as Alabama’s offensive coordinator, his son hung around more with Montgomery and the players, in particular his host, rising senior wide receiver DJ Turner.
“What really surprised me was the coaching staff. I really enjoyed them just as people I can spend two years with and work hard with,” the younger Jackson said.
One of the other factors that played into his decision was the academic component. Josh Jackson has aspirations of being a clinical psychologist when he’s done playing football, and Maryland offers to pay for the post-graduate scholarships of its athletes, including doctorates if they can finish within nine years.
“The academics was a big surprise to me because I didn’t know Maryland was such a great school,” Josh Jackson said. “What they have to offer for my psychology program was very intriguing. I didn’t want to pass up. I don’t think anyone would want to pass that up if they were looking of going into psychology.”
Last Saturday night around 9:30 p.m., the elder Jackson said he received a text message from his son that read, “Dad, I can find no negatives about this place.”
The Jacksons had also talked with new Bowling Green coach Scot Loeffler, a former Michigan assistant who was Virginia Tech’s offensive coordinator when Josh Jackson committed to the Hokies out of high school in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Loeffler, a former Michigan quarterback whose own college career was cut short by injury, was widely credited with helping develop Tom Brady during his six seasons as quarterbacks coach for the Wolverines, and later did the same for Tim Tebow at Florida.
“It was the only reason [Josh committed to Virginia Tech],” Fred Jackson said.
When longtime Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer retired the spring before Jackson arrived, new coach Justin Fuente didn’t retain Loeffler, who worked the past three seasons at Boston College.
“As soon as Beamer left, Scot was gone and Josh had a dilemma about going somewhere else,” the elder Jackson said. “We could have petitioned NCAA. Scot had trained Josh when he was 11 or 12 years old.”
Along with Locksley, the elder Jackson had previous relationships with several Maryland assistants, including wide receivers coach Joker Phillips, defensive coordinator Jon Hoke and cornerbacks coach Cory Robinson. He also had mutual friends of Montgomery.
“I was sitting around a table and I knew five guys at the table,” said Fred Jackson, who worked at Michigan (1992-2014) under four different head coaches, worked at Big Ten schools Purdue and Wisconsin, and spent a season at Navy.
In talking to his friends about where Josh Jackson should go, the elder Jackson even spoke to one of his former players at Michigan with whom he has remained close — Brady, who just won his sixth Super Bowl with the New England Patriots.
“I always talk to Tom. We’re pretty close and he’s tight with Scot Loeffler also,” Fred Jackson said. “He was trying to let me know that Josh could go anywhere and they’re going to know who he is. He’s going to be good where he goes.”
Fred Jackson said Brady left him with a parting thought.
“He said, ‘Make sure Josh feels comfortable with the coaches and can give him enough knowledge that he can grow,’ ” Fred Jackson said.
Given the Maryland quarterback situation — Jackson will likely start over redshirt junior Tyrrell Pigrome and incoming four-star prospect Lance LeGendre — Jackson will have an opportunity to show what other Big Ten teams missed when he was getting out of high school in Ann Arbor.
While his older brother, Jeremy, played wide receiver for the Wolverines, Michigan offered a scholarship to Josh Jackson, though not as a quarterback. Michigan State “didn’t do much with him,” according to Fred Jackson, and the younger Jackson also visited Penn State while in high school but the Nittany Lions passed on him as well.
“He wanted to play against those teams,” said Fred Jackson, a former quarterback at Jackson State. “I know the Big Ten East is tough. … It’s not going to mean to some of these guys what it means to him because he wants to compete against teams, especially Michigan State, Ohio State and Penn State, because he grew up in the Big Ten.”
Though not necessarily a deciding factor in the 21-year-old’s decision, it was Josh Jackson’s decision. He said he trusts his father’s opinions explicitly, especially when it comes to college football, adding, “I think it will be pretty cool to play against those schools.”
Calling his father “my dad and my best friend,” it was the experience as a coach and recruiter for almost 40 years that made the younger Jackson feel comfortable with his father’s insistence on giving Maryland serious consideration.
Asked how much he trusts his father’s instincts about Maryland, Josh Jackson said, “Completely. His knowledge in this college football world, you can’t really compare to anybody.
“His advice has been very helpful. Just having him around stops the shadiness that some coaches might bring into recruiting. You can’t BS him because he’s been there and done that. Having him with me is definitely a big advantage and it’s something I really appreciated.”