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July 17, 2021

“It’s been quite the road” | Jackson pursues pro dreams as receiver

#17 Blake Jackson

An item that pops off the football resumé of Winnipeg Blue Bombers hopeful Blake Jackson: he quarterbacked his college team to a national championship, while being named the MVP of the title game.

So… Alabama? LSU? Clemson? Nope.

Sam Houston State or North Dakota State of the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly Division 1-AA? Valdosta State or Texas A&M-Commerce of Division II? No, not any of them either.

Jackson led the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor Crusaders to the 2016 Division III title and was named the Stagg Bowl MVP in the process. Yet in the years since then – from stops in the CFL to the NFL and XFL and back to Canada here in Winnipeg – Jackson has been chasing his football dream as a receiver, not a quarterback. And that alone makes his story among the more fascinating at Blue Bombers training camp.

“It’s been quite the road,” began Jackson in a chat with bluebombers.com. “I’ve been through a lot – I’ve been in three different leagues: NFL, XFL and CFL. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but that’s just part of the process. Switching from quarterback to receiver was hard, but nothing you want comes easy in life. Nothing is just given to you. You’ve got to work for it.”

An exceptional athlete who threw for 3,282 yards and 35 touchdowns while rushing for 1,026 yards and another 11 TDs in his final year at UMHB, Jackson didn’t attract interest at the NFL level because the pro teams back then saw the Russell Wilson-Kyler Murray-Drew Brees types – anyone under 6-0 – as anomaly. But scouts did see something in his skillset and his dedication and suggested he switch to receiver.

“I just got to work studying film on how to run routes, from players like Julian Edelman (of the New England Patriots) and other guys who played quarterback in college, and watched how they made the transition. I watched film on guys that seemed to fit my abilities. I had the athleticism, it was all about the craftsmanship of learning how to run routes, how to get in and out of your breaks, how to speed cut… everything.”

He opened eyes at Baylor’s pro day, but without any film of him as a receiver, he was passed over by the NFL. The Calgary Stampeders brought him to camp in 2016 but that squad – which went 15-2-1 before being upset in the Grey Cup by Ottawa – was stacked at the receiver position.

Two weeks after his release, he landed in Cleveland and impressed enough to spend the next year and a half on the Browns practice roster before an injury cost him his spot. His next stop was with the Houston Roughnecks of the XFL, but when that league was shut down due to the pandemic he opted to return to the CFL with the Bombers.

A self-confessed ‘football junkie’ and the son of a former NFLer-turned-coach in Tim Jackson, he is still learning on the job. And every day he goes to school, vowing to get better and praying his dedication can land him a football home.

“When it was suggested I switch positions, a lot of guys can fall victim to the blow to the ego,” he said. “It’s pride. But sometimes you have to put your pride aside in order to grow, and that could be in anything in life. The way I looked at it, NFL scouts were telling me I had a chance at the receiver position and for me, coming from a D-III school, that was everything to me. I was like, ‘Yeah, damn right I’m going to go for it and give it my all at this new position for me. I’ll do whatever I need to do. It wasn’t an issue for me then. I had one main goal and that was to play professional football.

“Like I said, I’ve been around and it’s been quite the journey. Everywhere I’ve been, I’ve taken something from it. A lot of people get negative and it’s like ‘Forget them….’ I’m the opposite. You’ve got to look at it in a different light and take the positivity out of it.”