Calvin Jackson Jr. drew motivation from disappointment and came away with an NFL contract.
The former standout Washington State receiver had “high hopes” that he’d be picked up as an undrafted free agent shortly after going unselected in the NFL draft last month.
“But it didn’t work out in my favor,” Jackson said by phone Monday. “So, I used that to fuel the fire. Any opportunity I got, I told myself that I was going to make the most of it, and I think I did that.”
The New York Jets gave Jackson his chance and extended an invite to try out at their rookie minicamp, staged over the weekend in Florham Park, New Jersey.
Feeling determined and underestimated, Jackson excelled at the three-day audition and the Jets asked him to come aboard Monday.
“I went there and had a chip on my shoulder,” he said a few hours after signing. “Every route I ran, every catch I made, every opportunity I got – I made sure to make the most of it and I think it showed. I think (the Jets’ staff) saw it. And it’s a blessing for them to see that and give me an opportunity, but the job’s not done yet. I still have more to prove.”
Jackson rarely played special teams during his collegiate career, but he worked smoothly as a return man at New York’s minicamp. He reportedly made a handful of contested receptions throughout the tryout, as well.
Not surprising, considering the highlights he produced last season at WSU – the most notable of them being his spinning, one-handed touchdown grab against Cal that came in at No. 1 on SportsCenter’s Top 10 that night.
Jackson earned a second-team All-Pac-12 nod after finishing first on the team and second in the conference with 987 receiving yards. He totaled 66 catches, scored seven times and led the Pac-12 with 76 receiving yards per game.
The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Fort Lauderdale, Florida, native played in the slot last season after serving for three years as an outside receiver with the Cougs. Jackson recorded 287 yards and two TDs in his debut season in 2018, but injuries limited him to four games over the following two years.
He spent his first two collegiate seasons at Independence (Kansas) Community College and was featured on the Netflix docuseries “Last Chance U.”
“The people in my corner, they’ve been with me through this entire journey – from high school, to juco, to WSU and now to New York – and I’m just extremely thankful for all those people,” Jackson said. “When (the Jets) called me and told me they were giving me a shot, I just sat there in silence for a second, taking it all in.”
Jackson will head back to his home state of Florida for a brief stay before returning to New Jersey for team workout sessions, which begin May 16.
Jackson joins four other Cougs who have signed UDFA deals this offseason – running back Max Borghi (Indianapolis), receiver Travell Harris (Cleveland), safety Daniel Isom (Los Angeles Rams) and quarterback Jarrett Guarantano (Arizona). Two WSU alums were taken in the draft. Offensive tackle Abraham Lucas went in the third round to the Seattle Seahawks and cornerback Jaylen Watson was picked by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round.
Linebacker Jahad Woods will try out for the Pittsburgh Steelers at their rookie minicamp later this week. Former longtime WSU offensive tackle Liam Ryan tried out at guard for the Seahawks this past weekend, according to a Seattle Times report.
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