BALTIMORE – The pocket collapsed around Lamar Jackson, forcing him to hit a defender to get outside. Then, while on the run, Jackson threw a 40-yard pass downfield for a touchdown.
“Oh Lord!” a woman screamed from the crowd as Jackson’s pass went up into the air.
This wasn’t a highlight of Jackson’s MVP season with the Baltimore Ravens in 2019, or a recent clip of one of his incredible comebacks. This was an 11-year-old Jackson at a youth league championship game called The Ultimate Bowl in 2008, and the play can still be seen in grainy footage on YouTube.
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That kind of reaction has long been the soundtrack to Jackson’s football life. When the Ravens play in the Miami Dolphins on Thursday (8:20 p.m. ET, NFL Network / Fox), Jackson will return to the area where he first surprised everyone with his ability to run around tacklers and throw the ball further than nobody. .
From Pompano Beach to northwest Broward County and Boynton Beach, the coaches, players and fans who saw him during those early years in Florida recall witnessing a special athlete.
“You can go back and watch a tape where he did certain things when he was young, and then of course everyone would say, ‘He won’t be able to do that at the next level,'” said Van Warren, who has been one of the coaches. Jackson’s most influential since childhood. “Then when it came to [Boynton Beach] High School, wowed everyone. So, well, ‘He did it in high school but he won’t be able to do it in college.’ He ended up winning the Heisman Trophy.
“It doesn’t surprise me much when I see it on television.”
Jackson was named MVP in his first season playing soccer at the age of 7 and won the award for all youth soccer teams onward. From ages 8 to 13, he regularly scored five to six touchdowns per game; box scores were printed on the South Florida Sun-Sentinel. In two years at Boynton Beach, Jackson won 22 of 24 games and scored 80 touchdowns. He produced over 5,000 yards of offense along with countless jumps, side steps, broken tackles, and stiff arms.
A group of about 30 people who saw Jackson in high school are making a short trip south to attend Thursday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami. They hope that Jackson’s mother, Felicia Jones, and his brother, Jamar, will come through his back door and share stories of what Jackson did before taking the NCAA and NFL by storm.
“We don’t see him as Lamar Jackson’s soccer star,” said Lyndon Clemons, deputy director for Palm Beach County. “It’s Lamar. He’s a normal kid.”
‘Let’s go to work’
Warren was Jackson’s first quarterback coach. She met him on a soccer field when Jackson was 8 years old after hearing all the rumors about him hitting older kids in street soccer.
Warren’s Challenge to Jackson: If you want to play quarterback, you must throw the ball 20 yards.
“He tossed me a dime,” Warren said. “I was like, ‘Okay, let’s go to work.’
For several years, Jackson and Warren met at a local park every Sunday to work on quarterback mechanics, focusing on everything from footwork to holding the ball properly. There would be times when they would spend almost half an hour in three-step drops.
One particular Sunday morning, a teenage Jackson had the opportunity to go to a Dolphins game and asked his mother if he could attend. The answer was no. He had committed to training on Sundays and it was too late to break that obligation.
“He’s the hardest working kid I’ve ever been with,” Warren said. “He’s the one who finished all the training.”
‘He would cheat on you with your shoes’
Buffalo Bills running back Devin Singletary and Jackson grew within 10 minutes of each other. The only time they collided in youth soccer was at the age of 9 in an 80-pound league.
Singletary edged out Jackson early, running him down for a touchdown. Jackson, who was playing cornerback for the first time, later acknowledged he was upset about the missed tackle.
On the next play, Jackson responded with a touchdown of his own.
“A lot of people don’t know that just because Lamar plays quarterback, they might not think he’s physical,” Singletary said. “But he had a few runs where he dropped his shoulder on a linebacker. It was serious. He can do it all. He definitely retaliated.”
With the score tied at 14, Jackson won the game with a late touchdown run.
“Nothing has changed,” Singletary said. “He would cheat on you with your shoes. I could have jumped you. Whatever it takes to win, he did it all. “
‘The whole crowd said,’ Woooo! ‘
Ed “Bubba” Jones, who coached Jackson at age 11, was so pleased to see Jackson play defense as a quarterback. Lining up to safety, Jackson hit a runner so hard his helmet flew off.
“The whole crowd said, ‘Woooo!'” Jones said.
Jackson’s Northwest Broward Raiders lost to the mighty Fort Lauderdale Hurricanes 12-0 in that game, but the teams met again that season in the Super Bowl. It was a huge challenge for the Raiders to defeat the two-time defending South Florida Youth Football League champions, who had won more than 40 consecutive games.
In front of 5,000 fans, Jackson fumbled near the goal line in the opening drive, but recovered to throw two touchdowns in a 14-6 win.
“If I had the movie of that game, it would be like: it looks the same as it does now,” Jones said.
As champions, players could choose their reward: a Super Bowl ring or a trip to Disney World? They went for the ring.
‘I could not believe it’
Bill Tome was a resource police officer at Boynton Beach High when a student ran up to him to tell him the team had a great transferred quarterback.
Tome jumped into his golf cart to run to the soccer field where he caught sight of a 16-year-old Jackson throwing the ball.
“You’re pretty good,” Tome told Jackson before throwing a playful jab. “But you’re not that good.”
When Jackson asked why, Tome explained, “Because you didn’t play for my Bulldogs.”
Tome had been the director of Boynton Beach Bulldogs, one of the best youth soccer programs in the area.
“You’re right sir,” Jackson told Tome. “I beat your Bulldogs in the playoffs when I was 11.”
Tome checked by calling the Bulldogs head coach, who informed him that Jackson ran on two touchdowns to lead the Raiders to a 12-6 victory over the Bulldogs in the 2008 playoffs.
“He did his usual zigzag all over the place. You know, Lamar Jackson style,” Tome said. “I didn’t know who he was, and then I saw him five years later and I couldn’t believe it.”
‘Make your popcorn’
Clemons, deputy principal of Boynton Beach High at the time, was in the stadium press box after a flag football game when he heard Jackson yell, “Look at this.”
Jackson threw the ball 100 yards, from one end of the field to the other. The video of the high arc shot, which features a woman saying, “Oh my God, Lamar,” has generated nearly 165,000 views since 2015, as well as many skeptics.
“People watch that video a lot and say, ‘That’s made up,'” Clemons said. “I am as you listen, in the school I was in, that was not invented. We do not review any videos. The kid really did that. “
Another video that went viral was of a spring game against the Village Academy in May 2014. A fast-paced Jackson ran down the right sideline before stopping abruptly at the 1-yard line to let the defender fly past him. Then he walked to the end zone and raised his hands. The featured packages of this work have added more than four million visits.
“When you look at him and the others, you never know what you’re going to achieve next or how he’s going to do something fantastic,” said Clemons, who was on the field for that memorable play. “So get your popcorn ready, because he’s going to put on a show for you.”
Jackson has never lost touch with his roots, despite the fact that he has become one of the biggest stars in the sport. He still has his championship ring from when he won the Super Bowl at 11. On his social media, he will post photos of the team from his youth soccer days, surrounding himself with a laughing emoji underneath, as well as videos in which he repeatedly fakes defenders.
Jackson also remembers many of the youth soccer highlights that never made it to YouTube. When asked about the moment one of his teammates nearly lost his pants running for a touchdown, Jackson acted like he was back on the fields at Pompano Beach.
– Lamar Jackson (@ Lj_era8) May 30, 2020
Going step by step into precise details, Jackson recalled a game when he was 12 years old and his team trailed with one minute left in the fourth quarter. He recited the playcall that “Coach Peanut” [Warren] she had given him during the waiting time, mimicking his exact instructions. Jackson then repeated the play, rolling to his right and moving the shot to the opposite side of a teammate named Jet.
And, yeah, Jet had to pull up his pants as he ran into the end zone.
“Those days mean a lot to me,” Jackson said. “I always remember things like that. You can only be a kid once.”
That’s what makes this South Florida homecoming so special to those who saw it as it is to Jackson. For the second time in Jackson’s NFL career, fans will be able to see him again in person at a stadium 25 miles from where all those legendary stories began.
“The world is in awe of what they are seeing now,” Warren said. “But I still say, stay tuned.”