The tall and improbable tale of Georgia football's newest recruit, Jah Jackson


Seemingly, Jah Jackson had outgrown football. The taller he grew, nearly to 7 feet, the more people told him basketball was his sport. The more famous people he played with, from Bronny James on the AAU circuit to Alexandre Sarr at Overtime Elite, the more certain his future seemed on a court.

And yet, there were times Damien Wilkins, the general manager at Overtime Elite in Atlanta, would see Jackson and make what he thought was a joke, alluding to the school where Wilkins and his uncle Dominique played, which has a football program with some notoriety.

“If basketball doesn’t work out, I know the school up the road that would be good for you,” Wilkins would say, adding as he relayed the story recently. “But it was nothing serious or anything I thought he was seriously considering.”

Jackson didn’t know he would either. But after a whirlwind few months and a speedy recruitment that saw him visit Florida State and others, he has committed to play tackle at Georgia — and plans to enroll next month, becoming one of the tallest players that has played college football.

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Jackson, who turned 20 in January, says he is 6-11, which ties one other current player: Tom Hadary, an offensive lineman at Jacksonville State. Two other college football players since 2019 have been 6-11, per TruMedia. Per Pro Football Reference, no player at the NFL Scouting Combine since 2000 has registered taller than 6-9.

Jackson weighs in at 325 pounds. He said Georgia coaches have told him they like where his weight is, and despite not having played competitive football since middle school, they see him having a chance to start as soon as next year.

“I’ll be next in for the spot next year, pretty much,” Jackson said. “(The coaches told him), ‘This year you’re going to develop, going against some of the best D-ends in the country, pretty much, also get some snaps in as well. Then next year you have the potential to come in and be the starter.’”

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Jah Jackson committed to Georgia on Monday. (Photo courtesy of Overtime Elite)

A former basketball prospect, who wasn’t even on the football recruiting radar until June, joining Georgia for this year and potentially contributing so soon? How did this happen?

Jackson was born and grew up in San Diego, where he played Pop Warner football in elementary school. He moved with his mother and brother to south Florida in the sixth grade and kept playing football, including as the only eighth grader on the varsity at Westminster Christian Academy. He played left tackle, defensive end and some tight end.

It was around then he started growing even more. That pushed him harder into basketball and pushed football on the back burner, other than backyard games. He was on Team LeBron, where he played with Bronny James — “He’s a cool dude, chill guy,” Jackson said — and LeBron James watched games when the NBA was out of season.

As a high school junior, Jackson moved to Overtime Elite, the program in Atlanta that develops basketball recruits. Sarr, who played there from 2021-23, was the second pick in this year’s NBA draft, while Rob Dillingham (who went to Kentucky) was a lottery pick and Tyler Smith went 33rd. Jackson played with or against all of them and also declared for the draft. He wasn’t selected but did have professional offers to play in Greece and Spain and in the G League.

But as his mind wandered back to football, he decided to turn down a basketball future.

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“I feel like I made my most out of it,” Jackson said. “I got something out of it at the end of the day. I feel like it made me a better person, it made me deal with adversity and fight. And made me a better competitor. That all can translate to the football field at the end of the day.”

His mom, Lelah, and his uncle, Avery Holley, had been urging him to reconsider football. Jackson ultimately agreed and hired a trainer to get back in football shape. Meanwhile, his uncle reached out to Florida State assistant Patrick Surtain Sr., who had been the coach at American Heritage School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, when Jackson was at IMG Academy. Surtain invited Jackson to an FSU recruiting camp at the beginning of June.

It was the first camp Jackson had attended, and he endured plenty of training prep, making sure he had the right fundamentals. It wasn’t that much of a stretch, according to Wilkins, who remembered Jackson working hard when he got to OTE to slim down and get in basketball shape.

“Everything we threw at Jah he embraced,” Wilkins said. “He’s honest with himself. He’s not the kind of guy that shuns constructive criticism.”

Florida State was impressed enough to offer him a spot, although the Seminoles wanted Jackson as a tight end. FSU coaches invited him back, but some recruiting and social media platforms started to put out that Jackson was interested in changing sports. That same day of the camp, he began having college coaches reach out to him on social media. That included Florida, so Jackson and Holley drove to Gainesville and talked to coaches, including Billy Napier.

Georgia was also intrigued, its recruiting staff seeing the social media reports and passing word up the chain. Jackson and his uncle got back on the road, drove to Athens and went through the workouts there. The coaches invited him for an official visit the next weekend, then stayed in touch as Jackson went on another visit, to Mississippi State.

“Shoot it’s happening really fast,” Jackson said of the recruiting process. “It’s a day-by-day thing, something new every day, having to stay on top of it, making sure I communicate with everyone.”

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Jah Jackson (34) declared for the NBA draft after playing at Overtime Elite. (Adam Hagy / Overtime Elite)

In the end, Jackson decided Georgia was too good to pass up. That, of course, made Wilkins happy, but beyond that, he sees Jackson’s basketball skills translating because of his footwork, quickness and strength, a lot of good qualities for a tackle.

“Like all of us, it will be as good as the support he gets,” Wilkins said. “If people on the team want Jah to succeed, Jah will lean into that. If people want to work with him, he’ll do that.”

Jackson was asked what it was like essentially starting over: A few months ago, he thought he was about to start a pro basketball career, and now he’s starting a college football career as a freshman at one of the best programs in the country, surrounded by five-star prospects who have been playing football much longer and more recently than him.

“I’m excited by it, I’m ready to embrace the process and get better at the end of the day,” Jackson said. “I trust my athletic abilities to get me there and to handle my business at the end of the day. But it’s been good. I wouldn’t say overwhelming, but so much. Really a blessing at the end of the day. Just trying to stay grateful for the opportunities, and for people believing in me and seeing something they haven’t even seen on film yet. God kind of told me this was the path for me to take.”

(Top photo by Adam Hagy / Overtime Elite)



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