CHARLOTTE, N.C. — He dressed in a conservative black business suit rather than the stylish light grey outfit he wore to the 2016 ACC Kickoff. His hair was cut close to the scalp compared to his former high-hair fluffy flair.
And Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson’s new wardrobe was certainly a business look compared to the garish red tuxedo he sported to accept the 2016 Heisman Trophy in New York.
But no matter Jackson’s look for the 2017 ACC Kickoff at the Westin Charlotte, it was soon clear his before-and-after-Heisman ego carries the same casual and engaging personality. Despite heightened expectations and time demands, he patiently answered questions on the podium in the ballroom and later during lengthy breakout interviews in a meeting room.
Jackson was asked about his attire for his junior season. Is he more conservative this year? A look of mock horror shot across his face.
“No!” Jackson said, smiling. “This is my ‘Men in Black’ look.”
He still has some kid in him.
Line up videos of his 2016 and 2017 ACC Kickoff interviews playing side by side, and other than his suits you won’t find much to separate. The contrast was opening comments after he was introduced by Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino.
- 2016: “At first I was like, ‘Media Day, I don’t want to do this, coach.’”
- 2017: “Going to be here all day, and I’m loving it now. I see some of you guys’ faces. It’s good. I’m enjoying it.”
Jackson, with a couple of dozen media members crowded in a semi-circle around his table in a meeting room, smiled like a typical college kid sitting around talking sports. The athletes who accept media sessions this way make it look easy.
One reason reporters had plenty of football questions for Jackson was that we haven’t heard much from him since the end of last season – and that’s a good thing.
Off-field news tarnished the images of two recent underclassmen quarterbacks to win the Heisman Trophy – Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel as a redshirt freshman in 2012 and Florida State’s Jameis Winston in 2013.
That makes it easier for many to root for Jackson to win a second Heisman than it was for Manziel or Winston. After all, the Heisman’s Mission Statement reads in part: “The winners of the trophy epitomize great ability combined with diligence, perseverance, and hard work. The Heisman Trophy Trust’s mission is to ensure the continuation and integrity of this award.”
Only one underclassman Heisman winner has repeated, Ohio State’s Archie Griffin in 1974 and 1975.
“I talked to Archie about that,” Jackson said, referring to last year’s Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York.
But Jackson didn’t seek insight on handling the pressure. He’s taking the same approach that worked as a sophomore.
“I wasn’t trying to win it last year,” he said matter-of-factly, “and I’m not trying to win it this year.”
How many times has Jackson been asked about a repeat Heisman since December? Yet in mid-July he answered the tired question with the same respect as the first time he heard it. The media members were coming and going as they filled in the 20-plus spots around his table, but the demeanor was the same for repeat questions.
He handles interviews just as his magic on the field is his ability to let the game come to him. The 6-foot-3, 211-pounder from Pompano Beach, Fla., forces defenses to pick their poison. He rolls up numbers as a passer and a runner.
He was second in the nation in total offensive yards with 5,114, averaging 393.4 per game. He passed for 3,543 with 30 TDs and ran for 1,571 with 21 scores rushing.
The numbers from his true freshman year, when he started only eight of 12 games, were impressive on their own, but they proved to be only a launching pad to his stratospheric sophomore numbers. In 2015, he threw for 1,840 yards and eight touchdowns and ran for 960 and eight scores.
We may not have heard much from Jackson in the offseason, but that’s not because he was lying low. He just wasn’t in places where Manziel and Winston found trouble.
“One of the unique things about Lamar is on our campus, our football team had the most community service hours, and the No. 1 guy in that was Lamar Jackson,” Petrino said. “So he not only is a great football player, but he loves giving back to the community, loves being around young kids.”
Louisville second-team All-ACC cornerback Jaire Alexander, who accompanied Jackson to media days, says Jackson’s community service commitment is genuine.
“He’s real humble,” Alexander said. “For him to win the Heisman and interact with teammates and other people like he didn’t win it speaks volumes. If you never watched football you wouldn’t know he won the Heisman.”
That appears to be true in business black, stylish grey or garish red.
Follow Tom Shanahan of FanRagSports.com on Twitter @shanny4055
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