4B - The Michigan Daily - KICKOFF 2002 - Thursday, September 5, 2002
Lockdown cornerback Marlin Jackson overcomes his
rough childhood and is ready for an
arlin Jackson never had to
fight for attention as a kid
ostly because he never had
the chance. His mother was declared
missing in action for most of his life,
and he never knew his father.
Instead, Marlin's competitive fire
stems from him wanting to prove those
people wrong who said he still couldn't
make something special of his life.
And everyone can see his motto -
"Against All Odds" - inscribed as a
tattoo on his right bicep, with its mean-
ing reaching far into his heart.
Marlin remembers the tragic way his,
half-brother Marko's football career
ended. Marlin idolized Marko. Marko
was the one that ignited Marlin's love
for football and gave him a role model
he deeply needed.
But Marko's bright football career
was cut short his junior year when he
was a victim of a random stabbing.
Marko stood near a corner store on cam-
pus when he suffered near-fatal wounds
to his chest and neck. He survived, and
now works at a juvenile detention center
in New Jersey, but his football career
was never the same. Police are still
searching for the perpetrators.-
Marlin searched for a true "home" his
entire childhood. He bounced around
from three houses before moving in with
his high school coach his senior year. He
started with his mother, then moved in
with his aunt and then a family friend.
"It was definitely a different lifestyle
from others his age," said James Wild-
man, Jackson's coach at Sharon (Pa.)
High. "He spent most of his time in the
basement eating TV dinners."
Marlin showed up in Wildman's liv-
ing room soon after he found out about
Marko's stabbing. That's when the
Wildman's made a family decision to
allow Jackson to live with them.
"It was something we had to think
about," Wildman said. "I just turned 55
in July and retired after teaching and
coaching for 33 years. When you get to
this age, life is supposed to be easier.
We knew it would be like starting over."
Jackson got a chance to start over
too. But Wildman and his wife, Karen,
were surprised when they found out his
18th birthday party was the first time he
ever blew out candles on a cake.
At the end of the year, they asked
Jackson what he wanted for Christmas.
A CD player? New clothes?
"He said he wanted some deodorant
and some socks," James said. "Kind of
things most teenagers grow up with."
Karen remembers asking Jackson,
"Why aren't you bad? Why don't you
get in trouble?"
He said: "I have goals and I want to
achieve them. I want something more
for my life."
Opposing coaches certainly don't
want any more of Jackson. Instead, they
avoid his side of the field like the
plague. Last year as a true freshman,
Jackson emerged as Michigan's best
cover corner, often getting assignments
of covering the top wideouts.
Even they were impressed by Jack-
son's toughness, technique and trash talk.
Michigan State junior receiver
Charles Rogers, whom many label as a
Heisman Trophy candidate this year,
calls Jackson the toughest one-on-one
defender he's faced.
"He just uses his size well and you
can't shake him," said Rogers of the 6-
All America season
foot-1, 189-pound Jackson. "It's always
going to be a battle-when we play"
Washington's star wideout Reggie
Williams, who was shut down by Jack-
son for most of Michigan's dramatic vic-
tory last Saturday, feels the same way.
"He's just a great cover corner"
Williams said. "We had some battles."
Michigan coach Lloyd Carr compares
him to former Wolverine Charles Wood-
son, now a perennial Pro Bowler in the
NFL. Carr said both have that certain
competitive fire that leads to greatness.
"I thought he'd wear down last year,
but he never did," Carr said.
Jackson nabbed three interceptions
last season, which led the Wolverines.
Michigan safeties Charles Drake and
Cato June said having Jackson at corner
makes their job easier.
He's the "best kept secret in the Big
Ten," said Michigan wide receiver
But Jackson is no secret to quarter-
back John Navarre, who notices the cor-
ner's improvement from last season.
"He had raw talent last year,"
Navarre said. "The difference this year,
you can totally tell, as a quarterback, is
he's starting to get that veteran mode.
He knows what he's doing. He's starting
to disguise things. He'll try to play
games with you, to get you to throw the
ball into coverage."
Jackson hears the hype, then ignores
it like the snooze button.
He wants more than flattering com-
parisons or hype. He has goals to be All-
Big Ten and All-America, and wants to
lead Michigan to a national title.
And he has all the talent to do it.
Jackson said he had always wanted to
go to Penn State when he was younger.
The school was close to the Wildmans,
complete with plenty of tradition and a
legendary coach in Joe Paterno. Plus,
one of Jackson's best friends, Terrance
Phillips, was planning on playing wide
receiver for the Nittany Lions.
Sounds like a done deal, right?
Teryl Austin, Michigan's secondary
coach, was Wildman's quarterback at
Sharon High nearly 20 years ago.
Austin recruited Jackson heavily, and
Wildman advised Jackson that being
the first Sharon native to go to Michi-
gan and making a name for himself was
worth more than rooming with his best
friend. And despite Paterno's last-ditch
efforts, Jackson was Michigan bound.
"Paterno used to visit Marlin's school
during his senior year, trying to con-
vince him to change his mind," Wild-
man said. "But Marlin was comfortable
with his decision."
Joked Jackson: "Nobody goes to
Penn State anymore."
Jackson wasn't too comfortable after
playing a game of pick-up basketball at
the CCRB last February with some of
his teammates - and it cost him the
Despite a heartbreaking, early-season loss to Washington, the Wolverines
showed some promise last year with a 6-1 start heading into East Lansing.
But a last-second loss started a free-fall for Michigan, which lost three of its
next five games - including to rival Ohio State at home and a bowl loss.
Washington 23, Michigan 18: Michigan was in control of the game when
Haydein Epstein attempted a 33-yard field goal with the Wolverines leading
12-6 early in the fourth quarter. The kicked was blocked and bounced right
into the hands of the fastest man on the Huskies' team, cornerback Roc
Alexander, who went the other way for a touchdown. On just the second play
after Michigan got the ball back, cornerback Omare Lowe intercepted
Navarre and went 21 yards for his own score. The Wolverines never recov-
ered and Marquise Walker's school-record 15 catches for 159 yards and two
touchdowns went to waste.
Michigan State 26, Michigan 24: With his team trailing by four, Michigan
State's Jeff Smoker hit T.J. Duckett with a one-yard touchdown pass as
time expired, handing Michigan it's first Big Ten loss of the season. Duck-
ett racked up 211 yards and one touchdown on the ground. The game
also featured Hayden Epstein's 57-yard field goal, the longest in Michigan
Michigan 20, Wisconsin 17: The Wolverines' chances looked bleak when
they were forced to punt with 1:26 left and the score tied at 17. But Hayden
Epstein's 40-yard kick bounced off a Wisconsin cornerback Brett Bell and
Michigan cornerback Brandon Williams recovered the ball at the 13-yard
line. Epstein kicked the winning field goal with 10 seconds left on the clock.
Special teams were key throughout the game, as the Michigan blocked two
punts, running one back 57 yards for a touchdown.
Ohio State 26, Michigan 20: Rookie Ohio State coach Jim Tressel did what
his predecessor couldn't: beat Michigan. The Buckeyes took a 23-0 lead
into halftime and withstood the Wolverines' comeback attempt. Michigan
quarterback John Navarre struggled from the start, throwing an intercep-
tion on the Wolverines' third play of the game. Navarre completed 21 of 47
passes and finished with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Wide
receiver Marquise Walker snagged 15 passes in the defeat.
Tennessee 45, Michigan 13:
Tennessee took a 3-0 lead on
its opening possession and
$ never looked back. The Volun-
teers led by 10 at halftime,
and the dominance continued
when they opened the second
half with 21 unanswered
points. Tennessee quarter-
back Casey Clausen complet-
ed 24 of 36 passes for 393
yards and three touchdowns,
earning the Most Valuable
Player award. BJ Askew led
Michigan's ground attack
with 71 yards, and Marquise
Walker surpassed 100 receiv-
ing yards for the sixth time.
BRENDAN 0 DONNELL/Daily
Tennessee tight end Jason Witten.
entire spring practice.
While going for a dunk, Jackson was
undercut by a defender and fell like a
sack of bricks.
And what did he do next?
"I tried to find my tooth," Jackson
said. "I chipped nearly half of it off and
also tore a ligament in my wrist."
As expected, Jackson said Carr was
"very upset." While Jackson insists he's
recovered and ready to go this season,
he knows the Wolverines aren't usually
allowed to participate in basketball
because of the possibility of injury.
But the competitive Jackson said
while he'll give up basketball most of
the time, he has to have his fix.
"Maybe I'll just shoot around, play
some H-O-R-S-E or something," Jack-
Even when participating in friendly
games on dates, Jackson said he's play-
ing for keeps. He remembers a time
when he took a girl miniature golfing
and actually lost.
"I didn't talk to her much of the rest
of the night," Jackson said.
The Wildmans say they speak to
Marlin on the telephone sometimes
three days a week. Karen said they
either discuss football, life, or the care
packages they send to Marlin every,
once and a while.
"Karen talks to him like a spoiled kid
- I talk to him as a coach," James said.
The Wildmans may have spoiled
Jackson with packages of Chips Ahoy ! .
Chewy Chocolate Chip cookies or
on & EMMA FOSDICK .
Chilly Willy fruit juice, but James said
he treated Jackson harder than his two
kids. His daughter Lisa is a 32-year old
fourth grade teacher and his 30-year old
son Brian works in investment banking.
But Karen fondly recalls a special
Mother's Day when Marlin gave her a
picture frame, saying it was a gift that
meant more than anyone could imagine.
Marlin's biological mother is slowly
getting back into his life now, but he
considers Karen a mother figure as well.
Karen said many people don't under-
stand the relationship, especially other
fans in Michigan Stadium last year. She
said when she proudly proclaimed
"That's my son" after Marlin made a big
play last year, she received several weird
glances from others - especially after
looking at the color of her skin and her
short blonde hair.
"They thought I was crazy," said
James said Marlin had the uncanny
ability to play nearly every position in
high school, and that he never wanted
to come out.
"The only time he came off the field
was during extra points, because he
sure can't kick," James said.
James said Marlin's only drawback
could be his competitiveness, as some-
times he's too hard on himself.
"He's an innate competitor," James
said. "Some people compare him to
Charles Woodson, and while it's flatter-
ing, he said he wants to be known as the
first Marlin Jackson."
If No. 3 turns Michigan into a No.1
team before his career ends, he may
shed that particular shadow.
Continued from Page 3B
faces particularly rivalrous competi-
tion in this year's Big Ten. The two
teams besides Michigan that are
likely dreaming of New Year's in
Southern California are longtime
adversaries Ohio State and Michi-
gan State. To complicate matters,
both teams took games from the
Wolverines in 2001, making last
season the first since1987 that
Michigan has fallen-to both the
Buckeyes and the Spartans in the
But this Michigan team is one that
went out in its first week and won a
hard-fought game against what may
be its toughest competition of the
year, the Ninth-ranked Washington
Huskies. The 31-29 last-second vic-
tory gave Michigan players the con-
fidence (perhaps even the ethos) to
set the bar as high as they would
like - whether clearing that bar
means landing in Pasadena, or
maybe somewhere better.
"This could mean the national
championship; you don't want to
lose the first game," Perry said of
the Washington game. "We came
out there and played hard and
expected to win."
The Rose Bowl bid goes to the
Big Ten winner, of course, and there
is an old Michigan adage that the
real national championship is the
Big Ten championship.
"Your football .team - they have
goals," Carr said. "They want to go
to the Rose Bowl."
So ingrained is that philosophy
that anything less is a disappoint-
ment. The Washington win sets the
season off on the right foot, but it
has no bearing on an intimidating
Big Ten schedule that begins at the
end of September. 1997 is a fading
memory, and this team and this
class have set their sights on
Pasadena - right where every
member of the Michigan culture
expects it to be.