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It was just 11 months ago that Donté Williams was hired away from San Jose State by Arizona, only a few weeks before Signing Day.

Williams, being the aggressive recruiter he is and having those now well-documented connections in California, reached out to a four-star defensive back from Elk Grove he'd been recruiting for a while. Perhaps now that the assistant was in the Pac-12, Lamar Jackson might consider joining forces with him.

In this case, Williams was too late. But Jackson will also admit it wasn't easy telling the assistant coach he was already set on a school.

"It was kind of sad having to tell him that, 'Coach, I already told Nebraska that I'm coming,'" Jackson said. "And then, look, he's there for a season and now here, so it kind of all worked out."

Yes, Jackson is one Husker who needs no introduction to his new cornerbacks coach.

He knows that guy and likes that guy. He can give a firsthand account of what Williams is like as a recruiter.

"It's just like how he comes off, because he's not like some old coach that is going to sit there and you don't believe when he says, 'Hey, man,'" Jackson said. "He's going to sit there and talk about whatever you want to talk about. He's going to relate with you. He's going to ask, 'How's your life? How's your girlfriend?' He's fairly young. He's straight. He's got the facts to show you that he can coach and get you to the next level."

By now you've probably heard a lot of these things about Williams, stories that give Husker fans who follow recruiting closely hope that a big commitment or two or more may come because of it before Signing Day.

But what will soon be just as important is how Williams the coach can help in the development of a good group of corners. Certainly he has some strong starting talent to work with, as Chris Jones and Joshua Kalu are set to be seniors in 2017.

It is the future growth of Jackson, though, that will no doubt be watched as closely as any player in that secondary by this fan base. After all, the 6-foot-3, 195-pound Jackson was NU's highest-rated recruit in 2016.

Jackson was one of the few Husker true freshmen who saw the field this year, getting occasional snaps at corner when NU was in its nickel defense, but doing most of his work on special teams.

That Jackson didn't just bust through as a starter shouldn't surprise, since he only arrived this summer, and was making the move from playing safety in high school to corner in college. Also, NU has upperclassmen in Jones and Kalu, as well as a versatile nickel option in Aaron Williams.

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Even knowing all those hurdles going in, Jackson is candid in saying the first fall in Lincoln challenged his thinking at times.

"It was an emotional roller coaster," he said. "I went through little rough patches where I kind of got discouraged, kind of got a little down. But at the same time, I had to step back and realize I wasn't as ready as I thought I was.

"Now, I feel like with these bowl practices, and even with this season, because each week it's not like I was redshirting, I was there in every meeting, there in every game. So I kept hearing things and now the system is like second nature.

"So that's why I say next season — spring and fall — should be big for me. Because I can play how I want to play."

Brian Stewart, who will now coach the safeties at Nebraska after spending this season coaching Jackson and his fellow corners, perhaps best explained the young player's progress in mid-October.

"When you're a young guy like that, you don't know what you don't know and you just want to get out there," Stewart said then. "You've been doing this since you were 9, 10 years old, so you're just like, 'Throw out the ball, throw it to me. Let me go out there and do it.' And you still got to do it in the parameters of our defense, you got to do it the way we ask you to. And he's learning that."

Jackson sure thinks so. And a door will open after the bowl game.

While NU doesn't lose much from its secondary next year, the departure of Nate Gerry opens up one slot when the Huskers play nickel. Aaron Williams, who has mostly played nickel, could be an option to take Gerry's safety spot, which would in turn provide an opening for Jackson.

That's also merely December guesswork. Offseason competition can always change the picture, especially with a new coach on board.

In any regard, Jackson expects to make his case by being much more "explosive" in 2017.

"Rather than play scared to make mistakes," said the freshman who is almost no longer a freshman, "I can play with a little more swagger and a little more confidence."

Reach the writer at 402-473-7439 or bchristopherson@journalstar.com. On Twitter @HuskerExtraBC.

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