Nebraska walk-on defender Damian Jackson, a former Navy SEAL, obviously has seen the many players who have protested the national anthem before college and NFL games the past two seasons.

He's OK with the practice.

"Honestly, I don't mind people taking a knee," said the 25-year-old Jackson, who joined the Huskers as a walk-on lineman for the 2017 season. "I feel like they should be able to voice their opinion. I know a lot of people think it's bad for the military or they're disrespecting the military. But they're taking a knee for their own cause, and they have no disrespect for the military themselves. It's freedom of speech to me, and I don't mind anybody doing it, to be honest."

A handful of Nebraska players last season knelt in protest before games.

Sunday, Associated Press journalists counted 18 NFL players protesting.

A Las Vegas native, Jackson spoke to media Monday in advance of Veterans Day on Saturday, touching on everything from his experience with the SEALs to his newness in the sport of football.

The 6-foot-1, 245-pound Jackson, who wears No. 38, holds the American Flag as Nebraska sprints from the tunnel before home games, a role he describes as "an extreme honor."

"I know it's usually a senior and they trade it off every year," he said. "But in the beginning of the year, everybody came up to me and wanted me to hold it. I felt extremely honored to hold it. It's awesome to be one of the first people out of the tunnel. I know a lot of kids dream about it. It's a great experience for me, and I'm happy I get to do it every time."

Jackson served as a member of the Navy SEALs for four years after graduating in 2010 from Shadow Ridge High School in Las Vegas. He was deployed to Yemen and Southeast Asia. He remained with the SEALs until 2016.

At that point, he wanted to play college football. Nebraska became a focus because his mom's former boss, Gary Toogood -- a dentist in Las Vegas -- is a former Husker. Toogood helped Jackson begin the process.

Jackson said his Husker teammates are sometimes afraid to ask about his military experience.

"I don't mind speaking my stories, it's nothing too crazy," he said.

He was not a member of the football team in high school, but did participate in baseball and soccer. He hit .316 as a senior on the baseball team at Shadow Ridge.

He said being able to learn the sport of football -- it's been a crash course, he says -- and being part of the Huskers has "been an amazing experience." He obviously hopes someday to be able to contribute in games.

Before trying to establish himself as a leader, he wants to continue to learn, observe and find a more meaningful role on the team.

His teammates' "dedication to the sport is amazing," he said. "The players here have about the same dedication as we had (in the Navy SEALS). They're here every day. They want to be here. It was on the same level we had. It was awesome to see."

Nebraska head coach Mike Riley had nothing but good things to say about Jackson.

"From the moment he started working out with our team he set a high standard, I'll say that," Riley said. "Watching him work out is impressive. The discipline he has in all the parts of being a teammate is impressive. I think it's been good for our team to have him here. I'm hopeful that as he goes forward that he can find a niche with our team, where he can actually contribute on the field.

"One thing I know, he'll never stop working to find that niche."

A computer science major, Jackson hopes to someday work as a programmer for Google or some other entity in the Silicon Valley.

"I still have a long way to go, but that's the main goal right now," he said.

Subscribe to the Lincoln Journal Star

Reporting like this is brought to you by a staff of experienced local journalists committed to telling the stories of your community.
Support from subscribers is vital to continue our mission.

Become a subscriber

Thank you for being a loyal subscriber

Your contribution makes our mission possible.

Reach the writer at 402-473-7440 or


Husker columnist

Steven, a lifelong Nebraskan, newspaper enthusiast and UNL grad, joined the Journal Star in 1990 and has covered NU football since 1995.

Load comments