MOBILE, Ala. –- Jonah Jackson, Senior Bowl guard and center from Media and Penncrest High, calls his career at Ohio State “some of the best seven months of my entire life.”
That is college sports in 2020. Jackson redshirted as a freshman at Rutgers, then played three years, graduating with a degree in criminal justice, minoring in labor relations. He had a year of eligibility left. The Scarlet Knights were coming off a 1-11 season, 0-9 in the Big Ten.
“I basically just went and told coach [Chris] Ash this was my final go-round at Rutgers, and I was going to be going somewhere else for my last year,” Jackson recalled. “Obviously, there was a little sad feelings toward it, but it is what it is.”
Jackson entered the NCAA transfer portal, which works just like that big ring in the Stargate movies and TV show, except instead of ending up on some exotic planet, Jackson emerged in Columbus, Ohio, for a brief but significant turn as a Buckeye.
Oakland Raiders general manager Mike Mayock, a fellow veteran of the Philly suburbs, approached Jackson Tuesday afternoon on the field at Ladd-Peebles Stadium, after the North Team practice. Mayock relayed a compliment from Ohio State coach – and former Eagles quarterbacks coach – Ryan Day.
“I walk in at Ohio State, I’m looking around at all these big-name guys and everything, and the head coach comes over and says, ‘There are a lot of guys here, but the guy who’s changing the culture in our O-line room is [Jackson],’ ” Mayock said.
It’s hard to say so early in the draft process how much the year in Columbus boosted Jackson’s stock, but NFL teams definitely noticed that he jumped into a prominent program and quickly became a leader.
“He was a great addition to our team,” said defensive tackle DaVon Hamilton, Jackson’s teammate at Ohio State and in the Senior Bowl. “I feel like he got me better every day we went against each other … it kind of motivated me to get better. He was a great person outside of football, a great person inside of football.”
Jackson, honorable mention All-Big 10 his final year at Rutgers, was first-team All-Big 10 this season, according to the coaches, and second team in the media voting. NFL teams are attuned to his versatility – he started at Rutgers as a center, moved to right guard, played left guard this season, and feels he can play anywhere on the interior.
“I was kind of expecting to be asked if I played center and guard. I’m excited to be able to show off my versatility to teams,” said Jackson, whose official measurements here were 6-foot-3½ and 310 pounds. He has practiced at both spots here.
“I felt like [going to Ohio State] definitely helped me out, becoming a better player, showing I could go into a different program and make my presence felt and be able to be successful wherever I am,” Jackson said.
“Tough kid,” an NFC talent evaluator said. “To go into Ohio State and start like that, leave as a team captain, that says a lot about him, about his character and his makeup.”
“It was definitely a little weird, being back in a place I’d called home for four years. I still call it home,” Jackson said. “Being able to see those guys and have the love and support I had after the game and during the game, it was definitely an awesome experience. It was a credit to them. Nobody was bitter about anything.”
Jackson grew up as one of five kids in Media. His dad runs an auto detailing business, his mom works at Lowe’s. Neither of them knew a lot about how you go about moving from one Big 10 football program to another, so when he made the decision, Jackson contacted some players who had transferred. He found it wasn’t a convoluted process.
“Once you’re in the transfer portal, all the schools are able to contact you,” he said. “They get something from a database. One thing leads to another, and they’re all blowing your phone up.
“My first day [in the portal], I was going to my workout, and I came out to, like, a couple hundred text messages. The first phone call was from [offensive coordinator] Kevin Wilson at Ohio State. Being at Ohio State, that was pretty much a no-brainer, the way they’ve been able to develop interior offensive linemen, their record, and the legacy that program holds.
“Just coming into that program and that group of guys and the culture that’s established, and the standard that’s held, year-in and year-out … I would do it all over again.”