It was Fred Jackson’s senior year at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas, and he was listed as the team’s third-string running back.
Yes, the same Fred Jackson who currently ranks third on the Buffalo Bills’ all-time rushing list and who spent a decade in the NFL—that guy was buried on the depth chart his senior season. In fact, Jackson didn’t start a single game during his entire high school football career. From there, his journey to the NFL included a stop at Coe College, a school with an enrollment of 1,400 located in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, a stint with the Sioux City Bandits, an indoor football team that paid him $200 a week, and a year in Dusseldorf, Germany with the NFL Europe’s Rhein Fire. By the time he appeared in his first NFL game, Jackson was nearly 27 years old.
When reflecting back on his football career, Jackson emphasizes simply staying ready to make the most of an opportunity—despite not knowing when it might come—was his key to success.
“The thing you have to do is stay in it. Find the right people, put the right people around you. I had a twin brother who was the same way. He didn’t get a lot of playing time, but he kept me motivated and I kept him motivated,” Jackson recently told STACK. “When that chance came, (I was) ready for it. That’s just kinda how I approach it. There are many different paths to your dream. I didn’t take a traditional path…Don’t give up just because you didn’t make it the way you wanted to.”
Just playing a snap in the NFL would’ve been impressive enough considering Jackson’s journey, but he went on to log the 88th-most touches of any player in league history. He credits Eric Studesville, his running backs coach in Buffalo, with helping him learn that the more he could do, the harder he’d be to cut. “He was the one who who told me the more that I can do in football, the better chance I’ll stick around on teams. He got me into special teams and catching punts and trying to go down and cover kicks. Without him, I definitely wouldn’t have been able to stick around in the league as long as I did,” Jackson says.
Though Jackson last played in the NFL in 2015, he isn’t quite ready to give up the game for good. You can catch him competing in the American Flag Football League this summer, where he’ll be playing alongside and against talents like Mike Vick, Chad Johnson and Nate Robinson.
“This is an opportunity to keep playing at a high level and compete against some guys who were great in this game. When I was offered the opportunity, I was all over it,” Jackson told STACK at the recent AFFL Pro Training Camp, the highlights of which can be seen in the video player above.
To learn more about the AFFL—including the official rules and the dates you can catch their 11 televised games this summer—head over to the league’s official website.
Photo Credit: American Flag Football League