Saturday could have been a homecoming at Spartan Stadium for James Jackson.
Turns out, he’s already plenty happy in his new home.
The former Grand Ledge High star spent his first two years of college football playing for Ohio State before transferring to Wayne State prior to last season. And the redshirt junior wide receiver keeps his focus only on what he feels is a bright present and future at his new school in Detroit.
“I don’t really look back that much. I’m glad I ended up at Wayne State,” Jackson said this week as the Warriors prepare to face Northwood in a Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference battle in Midland. “I’m just following God’s plan for what he has in store for my life.”
Two of Jackson’s four catches this season have gone for touchdowns — for 16 and 38 yards in last week’s win over Malone — as he’s growing into an integral part of the Division II Warriors’ offense. The 6-foot, 185-pound former track star has 64 receiving yards to go along with four punt returns for 43 yards and four kick returns for 75 yards.
“Hopefully last game was a hint of what he’ll be doing for the rest of the season,” Wayne State receivers coach Steve Neal said. “The thing about James is he’s really big on preparation. … And what he brings to the table for us is, speed, speed and more speed.”
At Grand Ledge, Jackson helped the Comets to a 10-1 season as a senior in 2008, thanks to more than 1,500 all-purpose yards. It included 45 catches for 590 yards receiving, along with 204 rushing yards and another 452 special teams yards on punt and kick returns.
The first-team all-state selection became a highly sought-after recruit, drawing offers from almost every major college football power — including both Michigan State and Michigan. Jackson opted to sign with then-coach Jim Tressel and the Buckeyes, enrolling at Ohio State in the spring of 2009 before taking a redshirt that fall.
After seeing action in just one game against Indiana in 2010, in which he recorded no stats, Jackson decided to leave the Buckeyes before they began spring practice in 2011 — in part because of lack of playing time, in part due to some homesickness. He initially planned to enroll at Grand Valley State — a historic Division II powerhouse in Allendale. Instead, he chose to move to the east side of the state and Wayne State.
“I just wanted to be a part of something that was building, and I saw that Wayne State was in the building process toward becoming great,” said Jackson, who was not part of the tattoo scandal that cost Tressel his job. “When I was at Ohio State, even though we won the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl when I was down there, I didn’t really feel like I was part of the team because I didn’t play much. And if I had gone to Grand Valley, they were already established. I just wanted something new.”
The Warriors, led by current Detroit Lions running back Joique Bell, played for the Division II national championship and finished as runners-up last season — though Jackson played in their first seven games and recording four catches for 128 yards and a TD in that time before being inactive down the stretch. He also returned two kickoffs for scores of 87 and 90 yards.
“I love it down here,” said Jackson, who said he lives with his older brother, Kelvin, and embraces having family nearby, unlike in Columbus.
“Last year, we made it to the national championship game, and this year I think our team is even stronger. Just the atmosphere around campus, there’s a buzz about football — and I love it.”
The successes both team-wise for Wayne State and individually for former teammate Bell help keep Jackson’s dream of one day playing in the NFL alive. Neal called Jackson the fastest player in the GLIAC, as well as one of the quickest he’s ever seen on a football field.
“Just the way the NFL is today, everybody’s looking for those super-fast guys,” Neal said. “He should get a shot alone just as a return man. I’m sure by next year, we’ll have a lot of scouts here to see him.”