Illinois at Nebraska, 11/10/18

Former Navy SEAL and current defensive lineman Damian Jackson (38) carries the American flag out of the tunnel Nov. 10 at Memorial Stadium.

If you’re a Nebraska football player, you do not want to have an appointment with Damian Jackson.

Most places, one might not pick a sophomore walk-on defensive lineman with one game of playing experience to his career ledger — last fall against Bethune-Cookman — as a natural candidate to serve as a team leader and enforcer. Jackson, of course, is no ordinary walk-on. He’s a former Navy SEAL who recently turned 27 years old and does not face much in the way of questions about his credentials when it comes to holding teammates accountable.

“He’s like the vice principal that you don’t want to see,” senior linebacker Mohamed Barry, a team leader in his own right, said recently. “He’s ready to do whatever it takes to help us win no matter what his role is on the team.”

To date, that role has unfolded primarily off the field.

“He’s a guy that has done the hardest job of all jobs for his country,” said Barry, who is Jackson’s roommate. “So to not give him respect would be crazy. When he came in here, off the bat I told him he had my respect.

“As a Navy SEAL, your life is on the line with your team. That’s different than just playing football. I know for a fact he knows what he’s talking about when he’s talking about what it takes to be a great team leader at that level.”

Jackson, his teammates say, has become a point person on Nebraska’s leadership council, a group of several players who meet with the coaching staff occasionally and are more or less in charge of laying down the law among the rest of the team.

Head coach Scott Frost said Thursday that, while this is not yet a formalized Unity Council like the one that prevailed during his playing days, the Huskers continue to move in that direction as his second preseason camp gets underway.

“We put a lot of things on those guys in terms of responsibility to make sure the team is doing things the right way, and I think we’re real close to sitting down and figuring out how to implement the Unity Council closer to the way people at Nebraska know it,” he told reporters.

Frost said the team will vote on four team captains closer to the season opener, continuing an NU tradition. He didn’t close the door on the possibility of an underclassman earning a captain spot, though, saying that was still a topic that needed discussion, but “I am kind of of the mindset that if there is a good leader that deserves it and the players vote for him, then I will let him be a captain.”

There are multiple underclassmen on the leadership council, including Jackson and sophomore quarterback Adrian Martinez, junior tight end Jack Stoll and junior cornerback Dicaprio Bootle.

“I don’t really feel like we’re a type of team to make the younger guys be quiet,” senior outside linebacker Alex Davis said. “Everybody is confident, can speak up, and I feel like that’s important to have. Young guys can see stuff, too. They’re playing out there, they’re banging around out there on the field too, so they have something to say, too. It’s fun to even see them have the confidence to speak up. We encourage that.”

Certainly, though, some players have an added weight to their voices, either by position or unit or for the entire team. Martinez and Barry are in that camp, as is Jackson.

“I’ve been around a lot of teams and usually the majority of the team, on good teams, is doing things the right way and looking after each other,” Frost said. “There’s always some outliers, and there’s always going to be outliers, but we have very few guys that aren’t completely 100 percent in, holding each other accountable and living up to a standard that we expect. We have it on this team right now to a degree that I haven’t seen very often.”

For some, the responsibility comes naturally. For others, there’s a learning curve. Stoll has been the most veteran player in the tight ends room for more than a year even though he’s just coming into his junior season, and he said this week he at first was uncomfortable with that role. As he grows into it, both within his own group and the offense in general, confidence grows, too.

The same process, Stoll said, is happening in all corners of the roster.

“Basically, if you’re not doing what you’re supposed to, there will be a punishment led by the players,” he said. “That’s something we have embraced and held people accountable, and to make sure everyone is bought in. Especially this year, a lot of people are bought in, versus last year you could see some people weren’t 100% bought in. Those people are gone, so that’s something else that’s exciting.

“If you’re not going to be bought in, not going to give it your all, then I don’t want you on this football team.”

Contact the writer at pgabriel@journalstar.com or 402-473-7439. On Twitter @HuskerExtraPG.


Sports writer

Parker joined the Journal Star as the University of Nebraska football beat writer in August 2017. He previously covered Montana State athletics for the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 2012.

Load comments