This feature story on former ASU and NFL player Lenzie Jakcson appeared in The Stanford Daily on Oct. 16, 1997

Bay Area native hopes to put on a show
Jackson comes home to lead ASU against No. 25 Cardinal

By Ed Odeven
Special to The Stanford Daily

Superstar Jerry Rice was a hero for thousands of youngsters growing up in the Bay Area. Lenzie Jackson was one of those kids.

But the 6-foot, 186-pound wide receiver did not begin to emulate Rice until many years later. Instead, the native of Milpitas, Calif., idolized another All-Pro who starred at his customary position.

“I really looked up to Jerry Rice,” said the Arizona State junior. “He went through all those games without any injuries and he caught almost anything they threw to him.

“I was a big fan of Eric Dickerson. That was my idol when I was smaller… Walter Payton. Tony Dorsett and guys like that.”

Jackson played tailback until he was a junior at Milpitas High School. Then he became a wide receiver. It was a smooth transition.

“It didn’t take me long to get used to that conversion,” Jackson said.

As a senior he was selected the Most Valuable Receiver in the Santa Clara Valley-DeAnza Super League after catching 29 passes for 484 yards and seven touchdowns.

And it didn’t take long for Jackson to make an impact as a Sun Devil. As a freshman in 1995, he played in 10 games and had six receptions for 37 yards. Last season as a sophomore, he made 36 catches for 505 yards and three touchdowns and shined in Arizona State’s 19-0 upset of then-No. 1 Nebraska (eight catches for 105 yards).

Sun Devils’ offensive coordinator Dan Cozzetto is more than pleased with the production of Jackson, who has become the No. 1 target of redshirt freshman quarterback Ryan Kealy.

“He’s been everything we thought he would be when we recruited him,” Cozzetto said. “He’s come along at the pace we thought he would. He performed well as a sophomore and we look for great things out of him as the years come.

“I think he’s the best receiver in the Pac-10. We just need to get the ball to him more. He has all the characteristics of a great wide receiver. He does everything. He’s very coachable. He runs great routes, and (has) tremendous speed. We just need to make him our big play guy.”

Cozzetto is not the only one complimenting Jackson.

“We all know that Lenzie’s probably one of the toughest guys on the team,” fellow wideout Ricky Boyer said. “He’ll go across the middle and take a hit to make sure he’ll catch the ball.”

Additionally, in football circles across the country, Jackson has been mentioned as an up-and-coming star. Several magazines have listed him as one the top 20 receivers in the country. Lindy’s Pac-10 Football Annual named Jackson the 13th-best receiver in the country.

Said Jackson: “I think I do rank among the best receivers out there. I do believe that.”

However, believing he’s good isn’t what motivates Jackson.

Returning to Pasadena is what inspires the easy-going fellow.

“It’s something that’s in the back of my mind,” he said. “But I really can’t dwell on that too long because it’s a whole new season. It’s a good feeling so I want to get back there. That kind of pushes me getting the job done.”

Boyer pushes Jackson to play harder, and vice versa. The two receivers met as freshmen and have been good friends ever since.

“When I moved into the dorms, Lenzie was the first person I met,” Boyer said. “Lenzie and I have gotten to know each other real well. … We talk a lot about our different routes and our different breaks and everything.

“Every time I go to practice I just like to watch him run his routes. If I’d something wrong, I just go to the sideline and ask, ‘What did I do wrong? What can I do to get it better?’ Or he’ll come and ask me, ‘How did that look?’ ”

Despite having what many experts call the best receiving corps in the Pacific-10 Conference, the Sun Devil receivers haven’t had a breakthrough game yet. There’s an explanation for that, according to Jackson.

“I think more than anything penalties have been hurting us, because that hurts the play calling because it limits us to what we can do,” Jackson said.

Jackson admits that he’s anxious to show what he can do against Stanford on Saturday.

“I think the receiver has to have the mentality that ball is mine no matter where it is,” he said. ”I proved that I can go across the middle, that I can take a hit and come down with the ball. It takes a lot of guts to do that, so I’ve taken pride in it.”

What will make Jackson proud this week is hooking up with Kealy all afternoon in Stanford Stadium. “We need to get it to him on some bigger plays,” Kealy said. “He’s a big-play receiver.”

If things go as planned, Jackson won’t be just idolizing Jerry Rice — he’ll be imitating him in the NFL someday.

Ed Odeven is an assistant sports editor at the ASU State Press.