Veteran sportswriter Doug Doughty writes a weekly column for Cardinal News (and sometimes additional stories such as this one). Keep up by signing up for our free daily newsletter.
Although college athletics seemingly has been turned upside down by the Transfer Portal, there are many cases where the process can be explained.
One player who has been able to make the transition is Virginia linebacker Nick Jackson, who had 354 tackles in four seasons at UVa and had over 100 tackles in each of the past three seasons.
Technically, he could have returned to Charlottesville for a fifth season, but just recently agreed to spend the 2023 season in the Big Ten at Iowa.
“He’ll graduate in May,” said Jackson’s father, Doug, a 1987 UVa graduate who is the co-founder of a marketing and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta and Tampa.
Nick Jackson was a coveted prospect out of the Lovett School in Atlanta before enrolling at Virginia prior to the 2019 season. He played in all 14 games that season for a UVa team that was 9-5 overall and 6-2 in conference play.
Since then, UVa has not been successful, with Tony Elliott replacing Bronco Mendenhall as head coach prior to a 2022 season in which the Cavaliers fell to 3-7.
“It’s kind of a fresh start,” Doug Jackson said of his son’s choice of Iowa. “He loved his time at UVa in four years, graduating from the commerce school and having an opportunity because of the COVID year to go somewhere else.
“Candidly, he received a lot of interest but decided to go to Iowa because it just seemed like the best fit, which was the real answer.
“The day he got in the portal — I think it was Dec. 12 or 13 — he jumped into his car to drive back to Atlanta and he had 17 coaches call him. It was like the wild, wild West.
“That same night, mind you, he had just left UVa and both Vanderbilt and Colorado were at our house. And then, the next day, there were three more [coaches].”
The recruiting of high school players seemed to falter as a result.
“Why would I take a chance on a high-school kid when I could get a proven commodity,” Doug Jackson said. “This time around, it was a lot easier.”
So, why Iowa?
“They reached out,” Doug Jackson said. “We went out there for an official [visit]. We really liked the coaches [and] liked the defense that they play. They’re always one of the top five defenses in the country and they have a pipeline to the [NFL].
“I think Nick wants to enhance his chances and that probably gives him the best shot. It really came down to LSU, Oklahoma and Iowa. It’s the new normal. I’m not going to shake my head at it. It is what it is at this point.”
Shootings following a late-season game late in the football season were not a factor, although one of the victims, De’Shawn Perry, was particularly good friends with Nick Jackson.
“Had that not happened, [Nick] still would have made the decision to explore the opportunities,” Doug Jackson said. “I think the program is in good hands. I believe [coach] Tony [Elliott] has the ability and the right people to turn the program around.”
Doug Jackson speaks positively about UVa defensive coordinator John Rudzinski, describing himself “a huge Rudd fan.” He also speaks favorably of former Cavalier star Chris Slade, the ACC’s all-time sacks leader, who coaches the defensive ends.
If the Jacksons were disenchanted with UVa, Nick wouldn’t have stayed around to finish the second semester and earn his degree.
“A UVa degree is the most important thing and that’s why he came,” Doug Jackson said. ” So, he could have left after the fall semester, but he wouldn’t have gotten his degree and that just wasn’t going to happen.
“Wherever he was going to go, he was going to miss spring ball. He won’t enroll till the summer. The degree’s the thing. I believe in Carla, I really do. I think they’re going to be fine.”
He was referring to UVa athletic director Carla Williams.
“This was not running from anything,” Doug Jackson said. “This was more running to something else. The whole landscape just changed so frickin’ much.”