CEDAR RAPIDS — The only way you can outwardly tell Fred Jackson has made it to the big time in professional football is his necklace.
It’s some fairly ostentatious bling, a long silver chain with a couple of jewel-encased words at the bottom. Of course, those words celebrate his humble gridiron roots.
The Buffalo Bills running back has never forgotten where he came from. That’s why he was in Cedar Rapids on Tuesday afternoon, walking around the Coe College campus with his twin brother, Patrick, their wives and six children (three apiece).
Patrick lives in Cedar Falls. The group had supper planned with Dan and Katy Breitbach and family of Cedar Rapids, who took the Jacksons in as surrogate children when they left Fort Worth, Texas, to play football and run track at Coe in 1999.
“Dougie!” Fred Jackson exclaimed, as he saw longtime Coe equipment manager Doug Peters walk up to him outside Eby Fieldhouse.
Dougie got a great big hug. Still seems to be the same old Freddy.
“I’ve got to get back,” Jackson shrugged, when asked why he would take the time to return to Coe. ”This is my stomping grounds. I started here. The dream I had started here.”
Jackson was a Division III all-American, who played two years of lower-level indoor football for Sioux City and in NFL Europe before making it with the Bills. An incredible story of perseverance.
He was leading the NFL in rushing last season before breaking his fibula in Week 11. Jackson said he was cleared medically a month and a half ago and pronounced himself “100 percent.”
“Last season was great,” he said. ”It was one of those things where I finally got the chance to show what I was capable of doing. Any time you get that chance, you want to go out and make the best of it. I felt like I was able to do that. Unfortunately (the season) got cut short due to injury.
“Definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with in my professional career. But if anything, it has just made me more motivated to go out this year and play.”
The Bills have made a splash in free agency this offseason, signing defending ends Mario Williams and Mark Anderson, among others, fueling speculation that Jackson’s future in Buffalo might not be long. He made $1.75 million last season, as part of a contract signed in 2009 that runs out after this season.
Jackson said Bills General Manager Buddy Nix has assured him he will be taken care of by the club, and he’s not concerned that talks about an extension haven’t begun.
“It’s what I expected, so I can honestly say that it hasn’t been anything (different) for me,” Jackson said. “We felt like we had to make some moves in free agency, so I wanted them to concentrate on that. He gave me his word that we’ll get something done. He’s a man of his word, so something will get done about it.”
But you don’t lead the NFL in rushing late into the season without being a talent, and Jackson has always been a threat as a pass catcher. He also hasn’t taken as many hits as a typical NFL back considering he didn’t begin playing until 2007.
“I don’t feel any older at all,” Jackson said. “They say 30 is the threshold for running backs, and I felt like I had a pretty good season going (at 30) until I got hurt. So I don’t buy into that, there’s a lot of guys that don’t buy into that. It’s just kind of a number that they throw out there. It doesn’t bother me. If anything, it motivates me.”
Here is a video interview with Jackson: