Over nearly two years of meetings and conversations Northwestern and Justin Jackson have built a strong connection, and now, just months before he plans to decide his college fate, Jackson still considers the Wildcats his number one school.
“Northwestern is out in front,” he said Friday. “That’s pretty clear right now.”
Two other top schools, the way Jackson sees it, are Iowa and Vanderbilt. The Commodores took a minor hit in Jackson’s view last week after they secured the verbal commitment of fellow Illinois product Mikale Wilbon, the second running back to commit to Vanderbilt in 2014.
Meanwhile, Iowa – where Jackson visited two weekends ago – remains an intriguing possibility for Jackson, and he plans to make a return visit to Iowa City sometime over the next few months. Boston College is another program Jackson would like to visit, along with Illinois.
“There’s just a lot to consider right now,” he said.
It’s not going to get any easier; as recently as Thursday, Jackson was extended a scholarship offer from Mississippi State, his fourth SEC offer (the others are Missouri, Kentucky and Vanderbilt). All of these programs have their various advantages and disadvantages, but for Jackson, the most positives stack up on Northwestern’s side.
The most important attraction? “The people,” he said. “You get this family attraction walking around and meeting people there. That’s just how I felt personally, and I didn’t get that feeling everywhere else I’ve been.”
At the risk of repeating the underlying theme of most every Northwestern recruitment, academics are also a big plus -- “Top-notch,” was the way he described it.
Since Northwestern became the second school to offer Jackson last June, the Wildcats have undergone semi-revolutionary shift in offensive operation. They installed an option package, used it to great effect and, based on how consistently productive it was last season, are more than likely planning on making it a featured staple of the offense.
That means Jackson would potentially join the Wildcats having to learn a completely unfamiliar package. “I’ve never been in that type of offense,” he said. Fears of bad fit or problematic scheme-to-skills adaptability were quickly erased by running backs coach Matt MacPherson’s informative sit-down with Jackson, wherein MacPherson clearly delineated Jackson’s envisioned role in the offense and eased whatever fears he may have had about running into problems learning the option-read.
“That made me more comfortable,” he said. “It [the option] would be an adventure, but it intrigues me. Definitely.”
No timeline exists for Jackson’s decision. The only qualification he made was that he hopes to resolve his college choice before his senior season, but even that tentative deadline is subject to change. The Wildcats have made no demands on Jackson’s commitment, although their preference, openly stated or no, is sort of obvious.
“They’d probably prefer me to commit earlier,” he said. “That way I can start recruiting other players.”
For now, Jackson plans to survey his options and do his due diligence visiting other programs before reaching a conclusion. He plans to return to Evanston sometime this summer for a recruiting barbeque.
That would make Jackson’s fifth visit to Northwestern. “It’s only 45 minutes away,” he says.
If Jackson’s inclinations hold tight throughout the summer, he’ll be making a sixth, and seventh and eighth, and eventually, a permanent settlement.