Austin Jackson might be the least public elite football recruit in the nation.
Engaging to talk with, Jackson rarely does interviews. He doesn’t post photos from in-home visits or school logos when offers come in. His Twitter feed has more retweets about his friends’ recruiting than his own.
That makes the five-star offensive tackle from North Canyon (Phoenix) an anomaly amid the look-at-me intersection of social media and recruiting.
The first of Jackson’s reported 21 offers came from Arizona State in March 2015 when he was sophomore and enamored with the attention. His view quickly changed and that became the guiding principle going forward.
“I was a little bit younger so I enjoyed all the publicity and getting all the likes and retweets on Twitter, having to do interviews and all that,” he told USA TODAY Sports. “I thought it was pretty cool, but after a while it turned into a whole lot of publicity that I realized I didn’t really want. It kind of distracts you from what you really want.
“I figured at the end of the day I’m going to have to make my own decision no matter what all these hundreds and thousands of people are going to say over Twitter or on the phone in interviews. It’s going to be my decision so I tried to cancel out as many distractions as I could; and I’ve kind of been low key. I don’t really like all my stuff out there for everyone to see.”
RELATED: Final Composite rankings by position
RELATED: Composite Team Recruiting Rankings
Here is what we know: Jackson is down to USC, Washington and Arizona State. He will announce his decision Wednesday on National Signing Day in a press conference setting at his school.
“I think I have a good idea where I want to be, but I’m really open to my three options right now” he said. “I’ve kind of decided where I want to go, but I’m using all the time I have before National Signing Day to talk to coaches and figure it out. I’m looking at all my options and want to keep re-evaluating them, but I’m pretty sure where I want to be.”
Jackson said his approach has been lauded by college coaches recruiting him. He said they referred to it as “pretty different.”
“They all say it’s kind of a nice changeup because a lot of kids won’t really be straight up with the coach, but they’ll tweet certain things or retweet certain things,” Jackson said. “They think it’s pretty mature that I kept a 100 relationship with them and I let them know everything they needed to know before I decided to let the world know.”
A U.S. Army All-American, Jackson is ranked as the No. 5 offensive tackle and the No. 21 prospect overall by 247Sports. He is listed as No. 1 in Arizona.
At 6-6 and 280 pounds, Jackson has long arms, quick feet and a high intensity, but also is a bit raw in terms of technique.
“He has so much upside left to fulfill and he’s so far from being maxed out physically,” said Barton Simmons, the national recruiting director for 247Sports. “He is a sudden-twitch, powerful athlete and he hasn’t had the same level of polish as a lot of these elite offensive linemen. He’s a three-sport athlete and plays both sides of the ball. All these elements indicate that he’s not even close to how good he can be. That’s what’s exciting about him. I’m really bullish on his future.”
Another thing that makes Jackson unique: North Canyon has struggled as a football program, with coaching changes and winning only three games in his first three years and enduring a winless sophomore season.
Jackson could have transferred, leaving the neighborhood that he had lived in since his family arrived from Sacramento in 2010, but he stayed.
Led by Jackson on both the offensive and defensive lines, North Canyon went 6-4 this season.
“I started playing football my freshman year of high school and those were the kids and the coaches that were with me since day one,” he said. “I didn’t want to feel like I was walking out on them. Instead of joining the best, I wanted to beat the best.
“(The struggles) definitely taught me to humble myself with all the obstacles I’ve overcome. … I think a lot of people get caught up in one achievement and hang too high, and then when they fall off, it’s a long fall. I think I’ve been able to appreciate the good times, but I know they don’t last forever and that’s what really keeps me rocking — and rocking for a long amount of time.”
As the long process comes to an end for him, Jackson had this advice for younger players:
“Do what’s right for you and your family. If you like posting your offers and you like announcing what letter you got that day, then that’s all you – do what you want to do, but just realize that all that stuff won’t last for so long. Don’t get tied up into it and just do your own thing.”