Friday, September 21, 2018
Colleges

1997 USF Bulls: Charlie Jackson navigates life's speed bumps

More than two decades after the University of Tampa played its last game, the city returned to the Saturday football stratosphere when USF played its inaugural contest on Sept. 6, 1997. That 80-3 rout of Kentucky Wesleyan, before a Houlihan's Stadium crowd of 49,212, occurred nearly two years to the day after the Florida Board of Regents officially endorsed a football program for USF. In observance of the 20-year anniversary of that ground-breaking contest, the Tampa Bay Times is looking back at the first Bulls' football team.



Initially, Charlie Jackson doesn't want to talk. Even rudimentary questions about himself — where he lives, his occupation — are met with a reticent brush-off.

Then, the Bulls' former special-teams spark plug turns on a dime. Suddenly, the conversation resembles one of Jackson's punt returns: He stumbles, changes direction, gains steam, then he's off.

RELATED: Revisiting the inaugural 1997 USF Bulls football roster

"Life will drag you and take you in different directions," said Jackson, still USF's career leader in punt return yards (1,053). "But only if you let it."

Today, life has led Jackson, 39, to Savannah, Ga., where he cuts meat at a Sam's Club, looks after his mom and teenage daughter and dotes on his fiancee. After a near-disastrous early adulthood that included a bout with alcohol addiction, he says he's "content."

"(Life) can humble you," he said. "I've got a daughter (Nyah) that's going on 16 in October. She wants to come to USF, be an alumnni like her dad. Life has taken me through a lot, not to say I didn't put myself in that situation. … God's still got a plan for me, he's still got me kicking."

RELATED: Jay Mize, a 'relentless, fearless' safety and entrepreneur

The original Bulls football team, which played in the school's inaugural game 20 years ago next month, is sprinkled with cautionary tales. The fact that Jackson lived to tell his seems improbable considering his self-infliction that included a couple of DUI arrests in 2002 and '03.

He says he essentially went to pieces when his grandmother, Constance "Connie" Wilson, passed away at the dawn of his senior year in September 2000. He said he ultimately earned a liberal-arts degree from USF, but struggled to cope with the loss of the woman who helped raise him in Miami's rough Liberty City district.

RELATED: Scott McCready trades green and gold for black belts

"My granny was my heart," said Jackson, still ninth in school history in career receptions (104) and eighth in career receiving yardage (1,373).

"From there to 2005, before I woke up and realized my daughter needed a dad, a positive role model and figure in her life, I'd say those five years were the roughest in my life."

RELATED: Cory Porter regains passion for game 10,000 miles away

But here's where the conversation segues into a lecture of sorts: Jackson makes no excuses for the trajectory his life has taken. Though he earned a degree, he says he wasn't totally ready for his post-sports life, which included a series of odd jobs preceding his arrival in Savannah.

The result isn't so much a storybook ending as a textbook one — for the current Bulls.

RELATED: Keith Williams proof it's never too late to finish degree

"I would want the younger generation that just thinks they're superstars and this and that, that it can't happen to them, to realize life is bigger than football," he said. "Even when you finish football, you've got to have something to fall back on."

Comments
Heisman watch: Ohio Stateís Dwayne Haskins joins the mix

Heisman watch: Ohio Stateís Dwayne Haskins joins the mix

5. Ohio State QB Dwayne Haskins: Putting up 352 yards of offense on TCU is enough to join the top five.4. Houston DL Ed Oliver: Leads all active players with 1.57 tackles for a loss per game and should pad that stat against poor Texas Southern.3. Wes...
Updated: 2 hours ago
College football Week 4 viewing guide

College football Week 4 viewing guide

Lamest time window: Early. Just make sure you're around for the late afternoon/evening slate.Noon: No. 8 Notre Dame has had back-to-back shaky weeks. A third in a row could mean a loss at Wake Forest.3:30: It's not saying much, but No. 22 Texas A&M w...
Updated: 3 hours ago
New coaches try to re-ignite Gators-Vols rivalry

New coaches try to re-ignite Gators-Vols rivalry

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — If any venue screams for a '90s retro night, it's Neyland Stadium.The University of Tennessee will deliver Saturday when it recognizes its 1998 national titlists, whose improbable season was getting wound up just as Sein...
Published: 09/20/18
Gatorsí 2019 football schedule released

Gatorsí 2019 football schedule released

The Gators' first home game against Auburn in more than a decade, and their first contest against Miami in more than a half-decade, highlight their 2019 schedule released Tuesday.The complete schedule, as well as the slates for every SEC school, can ...
Published: 09/18/18
A year after Hail Mary, Feleipe Franks still a work in progressions

A year after Hail Mary, Feleipe Franks still a work in progressions

GAINESVILLE — The one-year anniversary came and went Sunday, with most of Gainesville seemingly oblivious.Even now, in the sweet spot of another Florida-Tennessee game week, the 2017 Feleipe Franks-to-Tyrie Cleveland Hail Mary isn't so muc...
Published: 09/18/18
Willie Taggart inherited a rough offensive line situation that has gotten even worse

Willie Taggart inherited a rough offensive line situation that has gotten even worse

Take your pick of ugly stats or stories about how bad Florida State's offensive line is. Like how only three teams in the nation have allowed more tackles for a loss than FSU (27). Or how one of the most talented running back units in the country ran...
Published: 09/17/18
Gators journal: Volsí 1998 national title squad a sore spot with Mullen

Gators journal: Volsí 1998 national title squad a sore spot with Mullen

The Gators are likely to encounter a little extra wattage Saturday evening inside Neyland Stadium, where Tennessee's 1998 national title team will be honored.It's a nostalgia kick that still makes Dan Mullen wince.The first-year Gators coach was a gr...
Published: 09/17/18
Gators lose Malik Davis to broken foot

Gators lose Malik Davis to broken foot

Gators TB Malik Davis has encountered his second major setback in as many seasons.Coach Dan Mullen announced Monday that Davis, Hillsborough County's all-time leading prep rusher, suffered a broken foot in Saturday's 48-10 triumph against Colorado St...
Published: 09/17/18
Matt Bakerís AP Top 25 ballot: How far did LSU rise?

Matt Bakerís AP Top 25 ballot: How far did LSU rise?

Three big top-25 matchups led to some obvious movement in my AP Top 25 rankings. Ohio State answered every question about how it'd fare without Urban Meyer by beating TCU. The Buckeyes, accordingly, moved up to No. 3 on my ballot.LSU now has two wins...
Published: 09/16/18
Florida Gators beat Colorado State to win Jim McElwainless Bowl

Florida Gators beat Colorado State to win Jim McElwainless Bowl

GAINESVILLE — Florida's early performance against Colorado State on Saturday looked like a fitting tribute to the Jim McElwain era.The defense looked good. The quarterback did not. It wasn't entertaining, and yet the Gators were on track f...
Published: 09/15/18