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Marquis Jackson keeps his football dreams alive

Former COC player stays in the game with Arena Football

Posted: August 4, 2014 10:35 p.m.
Updated: August 4, 2014 10:35 p.m.
Former College of the Canyons player Marquis Jackson (7) lines up for the Portland Thunder during an Arena Football League game. Photo courtesy of the Portland Thunder Former College of the Canyons player Marquis Jackson (7) lines up for the Portland Thunder during an Arena Football League game. Photo courtesy of the Portland Thunder
Former College of the Canyons player Marquis Jackson (7) lines up for the Portland Thunder during an Arena Football League game. Photo courtesy of the Portland Thunder

Marquis Jackson’s journey with football has already brought him plenty of ups and downs.

He experienced the high of being signed by the Minnesota Vikings as an undrafted free agent as well as the low of being cut from the team during training camp.

Now, the former College of the Canyons standout defensive lineman is playing with the Portland Thunder of the Arena Football League with the hopes of making it back to the bigger professional ranks.

“Everything I’ve been through has helped me as a player,” Jackson said. “It humbled me. But struggle builds character and it all helped me realize that God has a plan. And I need to do my part by getting big, taking care of myself and playing football.”

The twists and turns in Jackson’s football career started early.

After an outstanding 2008 season at COC in which he earned All-State Defensive Player of the Year, Defensive Conference Player of the Year and JC All-American First Team honors after recording 10.5 sacks and 60 tackles for the Cougars, he took the 2009 season off to focus on his academics.

Then in 2010, after verbally committing to play at UCLA and then switching that commitment to USC, Jackson finally signed his letter of intent to play at Texas Southern University in Houston.

Jackson’s twin brother, Malik, played at USC at the time but later transferred to Tennessee in the midst of the NCAA’s two-year postseason ban on the Trojans after violations by the football and men’s basketball teams.

It would seem that Marquis had found the perfect landing spot at Texas Southern, where he earned All-Southwestern Athletic Conference honors in 2010 and 2011. While with the Tigers, Jackson made 111 tackles, 13 sacks and forced five fumbles.

But just as things seemed to be going well, the football gods decided to throw another curveball at him.

In October of 2012, the NCAA banned Texas Southern’s football and men’s basketball teams from postseason play for two years after repeated rules violations and lying about imposing sanctions on its own.

That left Jackson with the decision of staying with the program or transferring to another school to play out his final year of eligibility.

“Seniors and juniors got the option to leave and play without having to sit out a year,” Jackson said. “I did what I thought was best for me.”

Looking for a new place to compete at a high level, Jackson found himself being recruited to Portland State by former COC teammates Khalil Bass and Jeremy Boone.

“(Khalil and Jeremy) called me on behalf of the team and recruited me,” said Jackson. “I’m glad I came out here because I really like the area. I’ve been lucky enough to play in a lot of really different places. Santa Clarita is pretty hot during the summer and Portland is very green. There’s all kinds of outdoorsy things to do like floating down the river and things like that.”

As a fifth-year senior Jackson made 24 solo tackles and 7.5 sacks for the Vikings and later declared for the 2013 NFL draft.

During the draft Jackson was in constant communication with Minnesota.

“They were really honest with me, telling me it was between me and another defensive tackle,” said Jackson. “I was disappointed I didn’t get drafted but as soon as it ended they called me and said they wanted to sign me. I was ecstatic.”

At the Vikings’ training camp, it didn’t take long for Jackson to understand the kind of pressure comes with trying to make the final 53-man roster.

“NFL camp is the loneliest, hardest time in your life as a football player,” he said. “Your family is in another state, there’s no rest, no guarantee you’re going to be there for long.”

“You go from getting 30 reps in college to just two reps in the league. And they have to be the best two reps of your life because that’s what they judge you on.”

Jackson’s training camp experience was short-lived as he was released from the team during the first wave of cuts.

Disappointed but undeterred, Jackson kept looking for a way to keep his dream of playing professionally alive.

Then Portland came calling again.

Jackson signed with the Portland Thunder in February and attended camp with them but in March took four months away from the team to pursue the professional ranks again.

During that time he worked out for the Green Bay Packers, the BC Lions and the Winnipeg Blue Bombers of the Canadian Football League, and he attended the Oakland Raiders rookie mini camp.

Then in early July, Jackson returned to the Thunder and has played in two games where he’s made a tackle and a fumble recovery.

“It’s like I never left,” he said. “The players and coaches have embraced me. I’m just excited to be back here and get back into football shape and continue to hone my craft.”

Even though he has only been with the team for a short time, Jackson has made his mark on the coaching staff.

“We had him in training camp and he was one of our best defensive linemen,” said Portland head coach Matthew Sauk. “To get him back was exciting for us. He knows how to rush the passer, he’s quick off the ball. He’s smart and anything you ask him to do, he’ll do it.”

“He’s just an easygoing guy who blends in well. He can be very productive because he works hard and does things right.”

Jackson and his Portland team played their first-ever playoff game Sunday, losing 52-48 to the Arizona Rattlers.

There have already been quite a few stops for Jackson as he chases his dream of playing in the NFL.

But despite all the trials and tribulations of his journey, he is still appreciative of the whole experience and knows that the only way to get where he wants to be is through hard work.

“I’m just taking it step by step,” he said. “Who knows where I’ll be next year. I need to dominate here so the league sees what I can do, whether it be the CFL or the NFL. I’m just taking it one day at a time so when I do get that next call, I’ll be ready.”


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