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Chicken, broccoli and 3 a.m. pump sessions with Mom: Inside the formula that helped Washington State edge rusher Brennan Jackson transform his body

Washington State defensive end Brennan Jackson, who said he arrived on campus with a bench press that topped out at 240 pounds, has boosted his personal best to 380.  (Associated Press)

PULLMAN – It’s happened more than once at the EōS Fitness center in Temecula, California. Brennan Jackson will walk into the gym across the street from his family’s home wearing a hooded sweatshirt two or three sizes too big.

Usually, once he’s completed a few weight sets, Washington State’s redshirt junior “edge” rusher will peel off the hoodie, exposing the large ridges that have formed over his biceps and the broad shoulders that he’s toned through years of presses, cleans and resistance work.

“They remember him as a kid and now he walks in, he wears a big sweatshirt when he goes in there, and nobody knows what he looks like,” Jackson’s mother Amy said.

“Then he’ll get his pump in and he rips it off and everybody’s like, ‘Whoa. Who is that monster?’ ”

Recently, Amy captured her son’s transformation through before and after photos posted to Twitter. On the left is a 2017 photo of Jackson from an early recruiting visit to Pullman. It depicts a high school senior who’s clearly had some type of introduction to the weight room, but nothing more. On the right is a photo from this April. The small sleeves of Jackson’s practice jersey barely ride over his ridge-like traps and a slightly bent arm accentuates the size of the muscle mound that’s become his right bicep.

“That picture’s insane,” Jackson said. “It’s crazy, I can’t believe that’s me.”

Among WSU players with three or more years of experience, it’s possible none has made a more stunning physical transformation than Jackson, who shared the team lead with 1.5 sacks during the shortened four-game 2020 season and has the chance to be one of the Pac-12’s most effective edge rushers in 2021.

If nothing else, he’ll be one of the most imposing.

Over the past few years, Jackson’s relied on a three-pronged formula when it’s come to changing his physique. Most college football players who’ve done the same can relate to the first two: a balanced, consistent diet and hard, intentional work with the school’s weight-training staff.

The third part is where Jackson’s routine becomes more unique. While home in the offseason, Jackson normally wakes up to a 3 a.m. alarm and ventures across the street to EōS Fitness for early-morning pump sessions with his mom, a former competitive body builder and personal trainer who Jackson describes as “pretty crazy” when it comes to weightlifting and fitness.

”It’s a blessing working out with my mom, she kills me,” Jackson said. “She’s a beast. Having her around home, keeping me on my toes and stuff like that, it’s really good. Being able to go home and still have that same kind of level of training, someone really on you and pushing you like these guys do – our coaches just helps me stay in that football mindset during the offseason.”

Amy Jackson left her job to become a stay-home mom when Brennan was in the third grade and found more space in her day while her son was in school. That led to daily gym trips, a passion for bodybuilding and eventually a four- to five-year stint as a personal trainer. Amy was training for her first bodybuilding event when she injured her shoulder and had to reconsider a competitive future in the sport.

When Brennan was 12 years old, the family moved to Temecula and he began tagging along when his mom would train at EōS. Instructors and employees who still work there are floored to see how much progress he’s made since Jackson’s visits to the Southern California-based gym.

”He had a good foundation when he left (for WSU),” Amy said. “… Just tried to give him a good base of, do things properly, you’re not trying to go in there and kill it. You need to do things the right way. So, he had a good foundation compared to most when he got there and may not have been pushing the most weight, but he was doing it the right way.”

There’s no shame in the numbers he’s pushing now.

On Saturday, after WSU’s second practice of fall camp, Jackson estimated he arrived to campus with a 240-pound bench press. His latest PR came at 380 . Jackson’s power clean, once 260 pounds, is in the range of 350-370 these days.

For years, Amy claimed to be more proficient than her son when it came to core-based exercises, but she laments, “He kills me on abs now.”

Because Brennan agrees to wake up before sunrise to work out with his mom, it usually gives him leverage when he convinces her to come back for a second session later in the afternoon.

“When he’s home, I’m not going to tell him no,” she said.

Amy has also spearheaded many of Brennan’s nutritional changes. After tearing his ACL during fall camp of his freshman season in 2018, Jackson added more unhealthy weight than he could afford.

He shed most of it the next season and has kept his diet in check since, taking helpful tips and advice from his mom and pounding plates of chicken, rice and broccoli.

In Temecula, it’s not uncommon for three meals to grace the Jackson’s dinner table: a healthy, protein-rich meal for Brennan and Amy, something different for Brennan’s father Travis and a more child-friendly plate for younger siblings Makayla and Maddux.

”I do chicken, rice, broccoli. (Brennan) does his protein shakes,” Amy said. “He does take his protein shakes a step further. He’ll put two, three raw eggs in there. … He does love sweets, but his sweet tooth, I don’t know how he got it under control.”

Jackson’s detailed approach to his strength, conditioning and health, not to mention a full year of experience in the new scheme of defensive coordinator Jake Dickert, could lead to more production on the field this fall. He projects to be one of WSU’s starting edge rushers and needed only a small sample size last season to prove he can thrive in Dickert’s 4-2-5 scheme, which differs from the three-man front Jackson was recruited to play in by former DC Alex Grinch.

”I think the physical everyone can see,” WSU coach Nick Rolovich said Saturday. “Where I think Brennan really broke out was in Coop’s (“edge” coach A.J. Cooper) tutelage, really accepting the lifestyle of being a great football player. There’s some high-level people in this program and he’s one of them. He just cares so much. He doesn’t just care about his body, he cares about hydration, health. He cares about getting his teammates better.

“He’s one that I hope he never leaves. I know he’ll leave us someday, but he’s definitely a net positive for us.”