Leistikow: Josh Jackson's amazing year gets final party it deserves at NFL Draft

Chad Leistikow
Hawk Central

Josh Jackson called home one night recently, just to check in during what’s been a whirlwind few months in preparation for the NFL Draft. The middle child of five asked his mother what she was doing.

Re-watching the Iowa-Wyoming game, she told him — regular go-to programming from the DVR in Paul and Vanessa Jackson’s home in Corinth, Texas.

“People talk about the Ohio State game,” Vanessa says of her son’s signature, three-interception performance in what became a consensus all-American season, “but that Wyoming game was my favorite — that was his first interception, and it was just a thing of beauty. That said to me, ‘This is the season. This is it.’

Josh Jackson (15) made a resounding statement to start the 2017 Hawkeye football season, intercepting Wyoming quarterback Josh Allen in the fourth quarter of a 24-3 win. Fittingly, in this photo, Jackson is congratulated by close friend Miles Taylor (19), who will join Jackson for the first round of Thursday's NFL Draft in Dallas, Texas.

“I just felt from that moment, that was how his season was going to go.”

In that Sept. 2 season opener, Jackson made an emphatic solo tackle on Wyoming’s second play from scrimmage. He later leaped high to swat away a long pass into the end zone. And then, as Mom mentioned, he notched his first career interception — under-cutting an out route, then zipping away for a spectacular, spinning 41-yard return.

By the way, the quarterback Jackson was dominating on that picturesque Saturday in Kinnick Stadium?

Josh Allen, who could be the first player taken shortly after the NFL Draft begins at 7 p.m. CT Thursday.

Indeed, looking back on it now, we all should have noticed what Vanessa Jackson saw coming: That her son would go on to showcase that he, too, is a first-round talent and one of the top cornerbacks in the country.

It’s been a story that seems to amaze at every turn.

Iowa’s fourth cornerback as a sophomore becomes the Big Ten Conference’s defensive back of the year as a junior.

A season that starts with a notable fourth-quarter interception ends with another — a nation-leading eighth to clinch Iowa’s first bowl win in seven years.

And, now, a former two-star recruit with one Power Five offer goes pro a year early and is in line for NFL millions … at a draft which happens to be held just a 35-minute commute from where he grew up.

For the first time, the draft is being held in Dallas — at the home stadium of his family’s beloved Dallas Cowboys.

And a slew of Jackson's biggest supporters will be there by his side when his name is called as a national television audience around 9 million strong tunes in.

Only 22 prospects were invited by the NFL to attend the draft. Jackson is one of them.

It sounds too good to be true ... yet it's all happening.

"I don’t know what it is about him,” Vanessa says, “but he has an amazing sense of timing. It baffles me. It just all seems to line up for him. And that is a fun thing to watch.

“I don’t think it lines up because of luck. He is somebody who works hard.”

By Mom’s count, 16 people will be by Josh’s side in the famed “green room” (the waiting area) on Thursday night — four from the agency Jackson is using, four siblings, a stepsister, three family friends (including former Hawkeye safety Miles Taylor), Mom, Dad, Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz and defensive coordinator Phil Parker.

Another six Jackson family members have secured tickets inside AT&T stadium.

It’s going to be a festive night. A party at a downtown hotel will precede a ride to the stadium known as "Jerry World," all of which leads up to a walk down the camera-filled red carpet at this annual football spectacle.

“It’s everything I always wanted it to be,” Jackson said in a recent NFL Network interview. “It’ll be good to have my family there.”

It was in that interview that Jackson said he would be “looking fly” on draft night, that he had special clothing planned for the event.

His mother, a full-time bid manager for a technology company, has her own fashion surprise in mind for the red carpet.

“I have not told him what I’m going to be wearing,” she says with a laugh. “But he will be proud. I’m going to put my best foot forward. … He’s not telling me, and I’m not telling him.”

Mom says that although her “stomach is in knots” about where her son will be headed (“Where is he going to go? How far away from home is he going to be?”), Josh has been relaxed as usual.

“Just chillin’,” he keeps telling her.

He’s been back home since Sunday, getting reminders to make sure he sweeps the floor and makes his bed before his next conversation with an NFL general manager.

“He is enjoying this whole thing,” Vanessa says.

Projections for Jackson’s fate are all over the map.

A Pro Football Focus mock draft has him going as high as No. 6 overall; others have him dropping out of the first round entirely. (I wouldn’t be surprised if Jackson is taken by the Green Bay Packers, who have the No. 14 pick, are well-connected with the Hawkeye program and could use help in their secondary. Same with the New England Patriots, who have Nos. 23 and 31.)

The difference in dollars with such a wide swing of possibilities is multiple millions. Jackson might not even be the first Hawkeye chosen; offensive lineman James Daniels is being discussed as a possible first-rounder.

Fellow Hawkeye all-American Josey Jewell, a linebacker, could be a Friday-night pick (rounds 2 and 3). Running back Akrum Wadley, offensive lineman Sean Welsh and maybe a few other Hawkeyes are likely to be taken on Day 3 (rounds 4 through 7 on Saturday).

But no doubt, of all the Hawkeyes, this NFL Draft holds special significance for Jackson.

This Dallas-area kid overlooked by all the big Texas schools is about to hear his name called inside the stadium of his hometown team.

Like Mom said: His knack for timing is pretty incredible.

Hawkeyes columnist Chad Leistikow has covered sports for 23 years with The Des Moines Register, USA TODAY and Iowa City Press-Citizen. Follow @ChadLeistikow on Twitter.