BATON ROUGE – Even Tyrann Mathieu needed a second season to earn a nationally recognized nickname that still follows him in the NFL. He became the “Honey Badger” as a sophomore cornerback at LSU early in the 2011 season for his uncanny ball pursuing abilities.Cornerback Donte Jackson will enter his sophomore season next month when the No. 6 Tigers open the 2016 season against Wisconsin in Green Bay, Wisconsin, at 2:30 p.m. on September 3 on ABC, and he is already known as, “the fastest man in college football.”
Jackson, a small (5-foot-11, 167) but versatile defensive back from Riverdale High in Metairie with uncanny 4.2 speed in the 40-yard dash, recorded a 6.63 second time in the 60-yard dash at a track meet for the Tigers last February for the fastest time among track participating football players in the country for 2016.
“Donte Jackson, the fastest man in college football,” fellow LSU sophomore cornerback Kevin Toliver II said this week with a drop of sarcasm like he is tired of hearing it.
“Yeah,” Jackson said laughing. “I mean I’m used to it now. Like, ‘Hey, you the fastest man in football?’ So, yeah, I’m used to it. I think it is a part of my name now.”
His teammates and Coach Les Miles, secondary coach Corey Raymond and strength coach Tommy Moffitt do not let him forget it should he let a receiver get by him.
“Coach Miles, he sees me on the field, and he doesn’t expect me to jog or be second in anything,” Jackson said. “It’s the same for Coach Raymond. Even at summer conditioning, Coach Moffitt didn’t expect me to be second for anything. So it’s a huge weight on your shoulders, but it’s a weight I’m willing to carry because I’ve been the fastest on every team I’ve been on since I’ve been young. So I’m used to it now.”
It’s why Jackson has worn the No. 1 jersey since his days at Riverdale. Before that, he wore No. 25 – former New Orleans running back Reggie Bush’s number with the Saints.
“I mean, I always wanted to be the No. 1,” he said. “I always want to be the No. 1 guy. I always want to be the best guy, so I feel like, why not wear No. 1?”
Jackson’s stellar play as LSU’s third cornerback last season behind starters Tre’Davious White and Toliver last season has convinced new defensive coordinator Dave Aranda to move White to the slot corner with Jackson and Toliver, who has 4.5 speed in the 40, on the outside in passing situations.
Jackson played in 12 games last season with one start in the Texas Bowl win over Texas Tech. He made 26 tackles with two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception while also carrying the ball from the receiver position for a 14-yard gain against Auburn and returned eight kickoffs and four punts.
Miles and special teams coach Bradley Dale Peveto plan on using Jackson more on kick and punt returns this season.
“I think I’ll play a lot of special teams,” Jackson said. “Coach Peveto, he’s a mastermind. I’ll really just let him take care of it all and put me where I’m going to go to be able to get the ball in my hands.”
This season Jackson plans on handling his wide array of jobs with more focus. His grades slipped when he tried to compete in track along with spring football, and he was ruled ineligible in early April for both sports for academic reasons.
“Yeah, I think I can do two sports now,” he said. “It takes a lot. Being a freshman last year, it asked a lot in the classroom. But since I got older, and I messed up in class and got ineligible, I think that I learned from it. I think come this second year around, I’ll be able to get back and do both sports again. And just be able to know what mistakes not to make.”
The physical part was easy.
“I can go play football, and I can get on the track all day. I just lacked on the academic side. Now, I feel like I won’t make that mistake again,” he said.
"One sport can be very difficult," Miles said during spring. "Now, to have two sports, there's some concern. There needs to be balance. We're kind of monitoring him and helping him along the way, meeting (study hall) appointments and doing the papers he needs to do. He has the opportunity to do both."
LSU junior wide receiver Malachi Dupre is glad Jackson is back. He missed the competition from the college football world’s fastest man.
“He’s one of those guys who’s great to work against because he’s so athletic,” he said. “He might not be the biggest guy, but he plays big with his jumping ability, his athleticism and his makeup speed. He’s very aggressive and can change directions like that.”
Dupre snapped his fingers when he finished that last sentence.
“Very fast. Very, very fast,” he said. “He’s a guy you’ve got to make sure you get in and out of your breaks on very fast. He can cover really well. So if you can beat him, you can beat just about anyone.”