Jack­son’s per­son­al­ity makes QB tran­si­tion smooth sail­ing

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JACK­SON, per­son.

Sounds like a silly thing to say about a foot­ball player, right? But think about how awk­ward it could have been for a 21-yearold rookie — one with un­even pass­ing form, no less — to re­place the best quar­ter­back in Ravens his­tory in the mid­dle of a piv­otal sea­son for the fran­chise. If veter­ans per­ceived Jack­son as false or lack­ing in hu­mil­ity, the sit­u­a­tion could have gone off the rails, es­pe­cially when Flacco was healthy enough to re­turn in Week 15.

In­stead, the Ravens kept win­ning, and the locker room stayed happy.

“Lamar is a spe­cial, spe­cial per­son,” safety Eric Wed­dle said. “Not just a foot­ball player, just a hu­man be­ing. He’s very gen­uine, he’s loyal, he’s hum­ble and he’s pas­sion­ate. Those are qual­i­ties in such a young kid you don’t ever see. He’s all about team. He’s all about get­ting bet­ter and try­ing to lead us. I tip my hat off to him. I look for­ward to not just be­ing on the same team as him, but be­ing a fan of him, and sup­port­ing him for the rest of his ca­reer, be­cause he’s go­ing to do some spe­cial things.”

“I just think he’s calm and col­lected,” said Mar­shal Yanda, the Ravens’ seven-time Pro Bowl guard. “He doesn’t say much. He’s do­ing his job — that’s fine. Ob­vi­ously, the quar­ter­back, on the out­side look­ing in, they say that ev­ery­one has to be vo­cal and you have to do this, you have to do that. Well, when you’re a young quar­ter­back, you don’t want to put too much on his plate. He’s do­ing his job. He’s stay­ing quiet and con­fi­dent, and there’s noth­ing wrong with that.”

Jack­son isn’t new to this dy­namic. He was a rail-thin ju­nior when he trans­ferred to Boyn­ton Beach Com­mu­nity High School in Florida. The first day he set foot on cam­pus, class­mates took him to the of­fice of foot­ball coach Rick Swain. This is your new quar­ter­back, they said.

Swain was skep­ti­cal, but in a mat­ter of weeks, he’d re­designed his of­fense around the new kid. It wasn’t just that Jack­son glided past the fastest play­ers and zipped the ball across the field with a flick of his wrist. He had an easy way with peo­ple, never putting him­self above his less gifted peers.

“He’s one of those guys who never took credit,” Swain said last sum­mer. “You couldn’t dis­like the guy, be­cause he was ev­ery­one’s friend, ev­ery­one’s team­mate.”

Same story at Louisville, where Jack­son be­came the great­est foot­ball sen­sa­tion in the his­tory of a school known more for bas­ket­ball.

If any­one was go­ing to hate him, Reg­gie Bon­na­fon was a good can­di­date. He was a year older than Jack­son and played the same po­si­tion.

Bon­na­fon re­called an early prac­tice, where he fig­ured he’d show the fresh­man up by putting ex­tra mus­tard on a deep out — one of the sig­na­ture passes looked at by NFL scouts.

“I’m think­ing I’m a lit­tle stronger … and I threw a good ball out there,” he said with a chuckle. “And Lamar comes up a cou­ple plays later, and his wrist is so dif­fer­ent — he throws the ball and it just zips out there with­out him even re­ally try­ing.”

The mo­ment could have in­spired envy, but Jack­son had al­ready won Bon­na­fon over. Even as an 18-year-old, he was a guy you could con­fide in.

“That’s like my lit­tle brother,” Bon­na­fon said. “We were friends from the jump. There was never any com­pe­ti­tion or any­thing like that. Our foun­da­tion as friends was first and fore­most.”

They hung out af­ter ev­ery prac­tice, and noth­ing changed when the world awoke to Jack­son’s tal­ents, pro­claim­ing him the most ex­cit­ing col­lege player in the land. He and Bon­na­fon still talk al­most daily, usu­ally not about foot­ball.

“He takes it se­ri­ously, don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t take it too se­ri­ously,” Bon­na­fon said. “He knows mis­takes are go­ing to hap­pen and peo­ple are go­ing to get down on them­selves. But he’s op­ti­mistic about ev­ery sit­u­a­tion. I think that’s what makes him such a great player. It was mo­ti­vat­ing.”

Bon­na­fon be­lieved that was what scouts and an­a­lysts missed as they dis­sected Jack­son’s game lead­ing up to the 2018 NFL Draft. “I don’t think peo­ple, through­out the whole process, took that into ac­count,” Bon­na­fon said. “His char­ac­ter goes way farther than any­thing he could do on the field. … You see how gen­uine his heart is. He’s a lov­ing dude. He’s funny. He’s the whole pack­age. I tell him that all the time, and he tells me back.”

Ravens tight end Mark An­drews had met Jack­son briefly when he at­tended the 2017 Heis­man Tro­phy cer­e­mony that also fea­tured his Ok­la­homa team­mate, Baker May­field.

So when they showed up for off­sea­son work­outs in Owings Mills last sum­mer, An­drews al­ready re­garded Jack­son as “a gen­uine dude, a guy who, even though he’d won the Heis­man, was su­per hum­ble.”

That feel­ing deep­ened as he ob­served the way Jack­son drew peo­ple to him. On the field, the quar­ter­back seemed to pulse with joy ev­ery time he or one of his team­mates made a great play. Off it, he’d sit in a row with his fel­low rook­ies and just laugh and laugh.

“Guys like that make the locker room hap­pier,” An­drews said. “You go through this grind and you need guys to make ev­ery­thing fun.”

Jack­son showed def­er­ence to Flacco and vet­eran third-stringer Robert Grif­fin III, lis­ten­ing more than he talked in meet­ings with quar­ter­backs coach James Ur­ban and of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg. He of­ten said how cool it was to learn from an older player who’d won Su­per Bowl MVP.

“His whole per­son­al­ity and how he ap­proaches things, I think him step­ping in be­hind one of the all-time-great Ravens in Joe and hav­ing it be smooth sail­ing from there, it’s pretty im­pres­sive,” An­drews said.

Jack­son doesn’t see his so­cial touch as any­thing re­mark­able. But that’s part of the rea­son it works; he doesn’t come off as cal­cu­lated.

“That’s what you ap­pre­ci­ate about him,” Ravens coach John Har­baugh said. “He’s not try­ing to be some­thing. He’s not try­ing to prove to any­body that he’s this or that or the other. … That’s not how he thinks. He’s been raised dif­fer­ently than that. His mom has done a phe­nom­e­nal job with him. His fam­ily has done a great job. I’m sure he was raised in a great way, and he’s very com­fort­able with who he is. Most peo­ple who are like that, you like be­ing around peo­ple like that, com­fort­able in their own skin, and that’s who he is.”

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