DeSean Jackson rose above the street life that trapped scores of his friends, cousins and uncles, and landed as a star wide receiver for the Philadelphia Eagles. "Growing up, my neck of the woods was very rough," DeSean says. "Kids not going to school, gang-banging on every corner, people killing people. I saw all of that."
And yet every summer, DeSean returns to Central Los Angeles, the city he escaped for a more promising future. It represents a return to his roots—a time when he can reflect on his past and project his mission for the future. DeSean's off-season is less of a break and more of a homecoming. It's a celebration of his achievements and a tribute to those who helped him rise above many of his contemporaries.
First and foremost, DeSean comes home to train with the team that put him in a position to be successful in the long run.
It Takes a Small Village
"To turn nothing into something." DeSean personifies this expression in practically everything he does. It certainly reflects his big-play ability as a multipurpose threat for the Eagles. Like when he torched the Dallas Cowboys last season for 210 yards on four catches, including a 91-yard touchdown run during which he was untouched. Or his remarkable game-winning punt return touchdown a week later against the New York Giants.
At 5'10", 170 pounds, DeSean embodies the underdog mentality, capturing that 'nothing into something' adage. But it wasn't like DeSean represented a tremendous long shot to achieve greatness. In fact, if one individual in his neighborhood was primed for big things, it was him. Byron Jackson, DeSean's older brother and skills coach, says, "It's like the old saying, 'It takes a small village to raise a child.' There was a whole village of people who helped DeSean get to where he is today." Affectionately known as Team Jackson, that village includes a group of solid men who motivate DeSean. "They've trained me my whole life," he says. "This is the team that developed me into who I am today."
It started when Byron's NFL career was cut short after two seasons. "When things didn't work out for my brother, it was like I was the next big thing," DeSean says. "[Team Jackson] came together, and it was like 'we're going to put this little dude on the pedestal and do whatever we need to get him to play in the NFL'—which at the end of the day, was my dad's dream. We just happened to be the characters that played in his dream."
DeSean's route to success began during the summer months he spent with his late father, who used to drive him all over the Golden State—from the Valley to the Bay Area to Southern California—to participate in football camps and clinics. DeSean devoted those summers to enhancing his football skills. And during that time, he began to see a bigger picture. He says, "My dad was pushing me to have a dream and showing me it was possible to accomplish that dream."
The positive influence of those closest to him resonated. DeSean says, "I didn't want to be a negative person in life; I wanted to be positive. So instead of doing something negative on the streets, I wanted to do my homework or go to the park in the summer to play football, because I knew what that lane had to offer."
DeSean struts onto the field at Veteran's Memorial Stadium on the campus of Long Beach City College like he owns the place. His name isn't on the scoreboard, but he certainly left an indelible mark on "The Vet," which was his home field at Long Beach Polytechnic High School. It's also where he declared for the 2008 NFL Draft.
As if opposing NFL secondaries didn't already have nightmares about DeSean's game-breaking speed, the Eagles playmaker returns to his old stomping grounds every off-season to refine his greatest skill. He says, "It's all part of fine-tuning my tactics for being able to run fast, because every year I'm working to enhance my speed."
Speed reigns supreme in DeSean's game, but "you can't just work on one aspect of your game," he says. Enter Team Jackson, whose comprehensive approach to coaching DeSean encompasses everything, including techniques used by opposing defensive backs.
Byron says, "We remind him of all the little things, from his speed to his wide receiver skills. It's easy to forget about the fundamentals as you play through the whole season, so we constantly remind him of all the small things in the off-season."
Beyond refining his speed, DeSean's number one objective this off-season is to improve his pass-catching ability. "I'm a complete receiver," he says. "Don't get me wrong, the deep balls are fun, but I'll sacrifice my body for the ball. I'm a wide receiver, and that's my job."
DeSean Jackson's Speed and Receiving Workout
- In continuous fashion, bound from one leg to the other
- Cover as much ground as possible with each rep, working on driving your foot into the ground underneath your body
Sets/Reps: 2x5 each leg
"I make sure all of the speed muscles are warmed up, my timing is good, and I'm ready to fire. This is part of fine-tuning my tactics for being able to run fast."
- Assume 40-Yard start position
- Push into the ground with front foot and drive back arm forward to explode out
- Sprint for 15-20 yards; repeat for specified reps
"I'm constantly reminding myself of certain techniques, like staying low, exploding out, keeping my head low and elbows tight. I'm in a position where I can explode forward without wasting time to take off."
Five-Cone Zigzag Drill
- Place five cones one yard apart in zigzag pattern
- Assume athletic stance five yards in front of first cone
- Sprint to first cone and weave through zigzag pattern
- Weave through final cone, break right and receive pass from partner
- Perform drill in opposite direction, weaving through cones and breaking left for pass
Reps: 3 each direction
"I'm working on the placement of my feet and exploding through each cone. I'm staying low, twisting my hips and exploding in and out of the breaks. Quick feet in and out of the breaks, one to two steps around each cone."
Five-Cone Zigzag Drill With Spin
- Sprint through zigzag pattern, performing spin move at each cone; alternate clockwise/counterclockwise spins
- At final cone, break right and receive pass from partner
- Perform drill in opposite direction, breaking left for pass after final cone
Reps: 3 each direction
"When I run a route, I may fake one way and go the other way, break it down, stop, catch the ball and go 80 yards for a touchdown. That's what this drill is all about."
Hard Ball Catching
- Standing 10 yards out, have partner throw ball as hard as possible
- Catch the ball with perfect technique
- Progress to 15 yards
Reps: 10 catches each distance
"Catching footballs [is] what I do. Stay within 15 yards, look the ball in and catch it with your hands."
Distraction Drill // Catching In Traffic
- Begin on hash mark with partner on opposite hash
- Run straight across field as partner runs toward you
- While partner cuts in front to distract you, catch ball from quarterback who is 10-15 yards away
- Turn and sprint upfield for 10-15 yards
- Repeat for specified reps; perform in opposite direction
Reps: 15-20 each direction
"I'm working on quick acceleration, getting between coverage and accelerating after the catch while having body control to be able to finish the route and complete the play."
DeSean's Speed and Receiving Workout
|Butt Kicks||2x15-20 yards|
|High Knees||2x15-20 yards|
|Straight-Leg Bounding||2x15-20 yards|
|Straight-Leg Skip to High Knee||2x15-20 yards|
|Rhythmic Bounding||2x5 each leg|
|Explosive Starts||4x15-20 yards|
|Five-Cone Zigzag Drill||3 each direction|
|Five-Cone Zigzag Drill With Spin||3 each direction|
|Hard Ball Catching||10@10 yards, 10@15 yards|
|Distraction Catching Drill||15-20 each direction|
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock