The practice field at Ypsilanti Community High is a far cry from the practice field at the University of Michigan.
The grass on the Ypsi field is scarce and the chalk lines are a bit crooked, but Monday morning there was no place in the world Fred Jackson would rather have been than at Ypsilanti High.
Jackson, 65, is coaching his own team for the first time since he left Flint Southwestern in the late 1970s to become a college coach.
There were 23 years as an assistant at U-M, but they seem like a lifetime ago to Jackson, who was out of coaching last season and missed it more than he ever imagined.
“I know it’s going to be a difficult task, but I know I’m up for it,” Jackson said after the morning practice. “This gives you energy. Hanging around the kids gets you all the energy you need. That’s the exciting part. I couldn’t wait to get here today to get started.”
A year ago, Jackson kept busy by following his son Josh, who was the Free Press Dream Team quarterback at Saline. Now that Josh is a freshman at Virginia Tech, Jackson needed to be involved with football again.
While he was the school’s dean of students last year, not many of the football players knew of his extensive career that included stops at Toledo, Wisconsin, Navy, South Carolina, Purdue and Vanderbilt before being at U-M.
“I knew about him a little bit because he was coaching at Michigan for quite a while, but I didn’t know how good of a coach he was, so it was a little shady at the beginning,” senior quarterback/linebacker Amari Jenson said. “But when we connected and started talking a lot, I became able to trust him, and he’s an amazing coach.”
He also is an amazing guy, which is what the players are beginning to figure out.
Junior quarterback/free safety Garvin Crout was surprised at the many phone calls he receives from Jackson, and their conversations touch a lot more bases than football.
“He’s a good guy,” Crout said. “He’s real cool — always lets me know what to do. He calls me every night to talk. We talk 24/7. We talk about school, football, recruiting.”
Although he loves coaching, Jackson isn’t devoting so much of his time to teaching these kids only X’s and O’s. He has ulterior motives.
“You’ve got to let them know that you care about them, and I do,” he said. “That’s why I’m here. A lot of people don’t understand that these kids need to feel like they are somebody. You look at what Saline has and some other places have, and we don’t have the same things. But we’ve got great kids, and they need to know they’re great kids.
“I want to make a difference.”
Jackson wants to make a difference, just like his nephew Montrell Jackson was attempting to do as a police officer in Baton Rouge, La., before he was one of three police officers killed in a shooting July 17.
Montrell’s death shook Jackson to his core. Only days earlier, Montrell had just posted an impassioned plea on his Facebook account “not to let hate infect your heart.”
“That was my favorite nephew,” Jackson said, shaking his head. “He was coming up to my first home game, going to the second Michigan game. I had all this stuff set up. I just talked to him a couple of weeks before. He was talking about how it was like being black and a policeman. He told me what he was going to put on Facebook, and then the next week he gets killed.”
That is part of the reason Jackson is coaching, and loving every minute of it even if he has yet to find a Week 1 opponent, and it is the polar opposite of coaching at U-M.
“After coaching all those years in college, you’re so used to having everything organized and people doing things for you,” he said. “Now you find out at this level, everything that needs to be done, you need to do it yourself.
“We’re going to get this thing turning. We’re going to get it rolling. This is going to be an exciting time.”
Contact Mick McCabe: 313-223-4744 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @mickmccabe1.
Monday: Football practice began.
Wednesday: Other fall sports practices begin.
Aug. 25-27: Week 1 football games.
Nov. 25-26: Football finals at Ford Field.