Meet 2023 NFL Draft Prospect AJ Jackson, WR, Lake Forest

AJ Jackson the standout wide receiver from Lake Forest recently sat down with Evan Willsmore of NFL Draft Diamonds.
AJ Jackson the standout wide receiver from Lake Forest recently sat down with Evan Willsmore of NFL Draft Diamonds.
  • Name: AJ Jackson
  • Position: WR
  • College: Lake Forest
  • Height: 6’0
  • Weight: 205 pounds

Talk about your experience as a student. What is your major/minor? Did you participate in any other activities or campus organizations other than football?

Lake Forest is a 4-year liberal arts school, so it’s really small and personalized here. I wasn’t used to that.

Major: Philosophy (for Pre-Law)

Minor: Computer Science

I am part of a fraternity here. 

What do your teammates say is your best quality?

My role on the team has transitioned a bit over my years here – I went from just a player to more of a leader and role model. Last year I was a captain and I’m holding the same role this year. 

What kind of role do you see yourself in on the team? What scheme and/or position suits your skill set?

I grew up as a running back which really helped my footwork. I played wide receiver here but I can also be a safety – I just wanted to play where they needed me. Ironically, the punt return role is my favorite because it came more naturally, even after everything I’ve done catching passes. 

All of the guys are looking up to me and the opposing team always knows I’m going to do something. 

Who is the best player you have ever played against in college?

No. 3 at St. John’s – transferred to Montana State

Which one of your teammates impresses you the most?

Trey Stewart, our starting QB. He transferred from Wheaton and his college experience has been anything but easy. He didn’t fit in at the previous program and came to Lake Forest without knowing anything. He took a big chance on us and it’s the best thing he’s ever done football-wise. 

What makes you different from others at your position? 

My strength is one of my go-tos. I’m always working in the weight room. 

I’m never going to let the pace of the game get to me. That’s why I caught a touchdown on around 30% of my receptions last year. I also like to block which other receivers sometimes try and avoid. 

Describe a time in your life when you were able to overcome a struggle.

In junior year of high school my grandfather passed away the same day we had a playoff game – I remember getting out of the hearse and walking straight into the locker room. 

If you didn’t play football, what other sport would you play?

I’ve always had a second love for basketball. Track would also be helpful, and it’s something I used to do to help my technique. 

What is something that you are most proud of? What would you say is your biggest achievement?

Maintaining a positive relationship with my mom – she got diagnosed with lupus and had six strokes over an eight-year span. The dynamic changed a bit and I had to become somewhat of a caretaker. 

Describe one of the most memorable plays of your collegiate career.

When we played Ripon my freshman year, I had a game-winning touchdown catch and celebration for the first time. 

Do you have a favorite athlete or professional team? Is there a player that you model your game after?

Favorite athlete: Stephen Curry 

Favorite team: Warriors

There are plenty of receivers that I watch (Davante Adams for his releases, Justin Jefferson for finishing plays, Tyreek Hill for navigating the zone, etc.) but I know I’m not in their shoes 

What gets you “pumped up” before a game?

Honestly I’m not the “hype man” until I hit the field – our coach in high school said clearing your mental state before the game was the best path for victory. It was a successful philosophy during those high school days.

Music always helps me warm up. I go into my own little world when the headphones are on.

What do you do in your spare time? Do you have any hobbies? Any secret talents?

I play a lot of video games, and I’m also looking to get into yoga. 

Why do you play football? Who or what motivates you the most?

When I was younger I had a loose definition of family with my parents being divorced. Football, as it is for many, was an escape. This sport brings me peace and I think that’s why I’ve been able to play it for so many years.

My mom is a huge source of motivation – “if she can do it, so can I”

What do you want NFL teams to know about you? 

I want them to know that I’m a “teammate first” kind of player. I will always pick up the phone at any time of the day for any of my guys. I want everybody to reach their full potential. 

Other notes: 

I was pretty small starting off at high school, and while it was initially rough, I grew my body and developed my game. Junior year was my first on varsity, I was doing a lot of special teams work. Senior year was my personal “breakout” year, even though we had a run-first offense. I broke the punt return yardage record for the school as well. Recruitment was tough because I didn’t have a huge social media presence. My first official offer came two weeks after the season ended from Ottawa University (NAIA). I was about to commit to Central college (Iowa) but switched to Lake Forest after a call from our coach. I flew out for several days and once we negotiated the right price, I knew this is where I wanted to go.

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