John Jackson Jr. was a star University of Southern California wide receiver. He earned a one-time record 163 career receptions and won the 1989 All-Pac-10 first team designation and two-time Academic All-American honors. But it wasn’t just all Trojan football.
He was also a star baseball player, making the All Pac-10 team and leading in hitting one season and setting they school’s record for most stolen bases.
His son, John Jackson III, was shaping up to be a star athlete, too, and good in both baseball and football. Both of them dreamed he would go to USC, too.
The father mentored the son, offering advice, recommendations, and support.
Then, last December 4, John Jr. was hit by a debilitative stroke at only 52 years old. It affected his short-term memory, and he could no longer speak.
When he was wheeled to surgery earlier this year, John Jr. asked to go alone with his elder son to the operating room. His wife and two smaller children stayed behind, and John Jr. could communicate with sign language and by pointing at pictures.
John III remembers his father saying that he might not make it, but that he needed to “take care of the family.”
He wanted his son to meet the right people and get the proper coaching at the USC football network, and to establish himself quickly in the team.
John III worked hard to show that he was more than just a legacy roster addition to the team, and while his father was in the hospital, he took his younger brother to baseball games and cared for his mother and sister.
For the family, the legacy continued. John Jr. saw his father, John Sr. as a coach of the Trojans running backs, and John Jr. had a prized collection of wristbands of Heisman Trophy winners Marcus Allen and Charles White, among others.
John Jr. went from USC to play professionally in the National Football League for the Phoenix Cardinals and Chicago Bears. He caught nine career passes.
Like his father, John III was good in both football and baseball, but when he was a senior in high school he switched from quarterback to wide receiver and emerged as a highly sought after three-star prospect.
USC coach Clay Heston noticed the young Jackson and recruited him. But, the young Jackson also got the attention of scouts from Major League Baseball.
His father steered John III toward baseball, especially noting after a football game his son’s Instagram followers jump to more than 1,000 followers. And, they both noted that the site of a packed Coliseum is simply overwhelming.
John Jr. slept next to his dad many nights in a small chair in the hospital room, squeezing his hand and hoping for some response in return. He wrote his dad letters, many still unopened next to his father’s bed. Then, his father woke up and signed “J J 3.”
His father came out of the surgery fine, helping the swelling in his brain and a swollen ankle. His father had a lot of physical therapy to do, and the son was with him as many steps as he could along the way.
John Jr. is left paralyzed on his left side and now is learning how to walk again. His speech has come back, very slowly.
Meanwhile John III is studying real estate in school and working out at 5:30 every morning to increase his speed with his 6-foot-2 200-pound frame.
This past March, when John III put on his USC uniform for the first time, it was a dream come true. His dad wanted to see him make the run through the Coliseum tunnel, and was able to do so.
His son had suddenly become a mentor, like he was to his son, and both of them are realizing their dreams coming true.