Jackson Giving Back Through Field of Dreams Program
INDIANAPOLIS – Marlin Jackson was where he wanted to be.
And if he weren't exactly where he would have wanted to be under ideal circumstances – i.e., playing for the Colts in the postseason – as the veteran cornerback saw it, being where he was Wednesday afternoon was very, very good, too.
Because Jackson was at the Shepherd Community Center in downtown Indianapolis.
Which meant he was making a difference.
And Jackson said that matters to him. Very much.
"The only way I made it through from where I came from was through God," Jackson said Wednesday afternoon at the Marlin Jackson Field of Dreams Touchdown party, an event associate with the Field of Dreams Incentive Program that his Fight For Life Foundation implemented at Shepherd Community Center in September.
"I felt it was a blessing. For me not to go back and return a favor and do my part and give back to kids would be just downright wrong. That's why I'm so motivated and why I enjoy doing it. I feel like it's what I'm supposed to be doing.
"I feel like it's what God picked out for me as my way to give back and my way to make a difference."
Jackson, a first-round selection in the 2005 NFL Draft who missed the last nine games last season with a knee injury, began the Field of Dreams program to reward youth for positive choices in life with a special emphasis on attitude, education and community service.
The program benefits children in Indianapolis and his hometown of Sharon, Pa. It is structured to encourage children ages 8-12 to make positive decisions and avoid negative behaviors.
Using a giant football field to chart their progress, members received incentive items based on their personal successes in school, home and at the community center. As the youth met goals in these areas, they gained yards on the football field.
Incentive items included tickets to Colts home games, autographed memorabilia, NFL and Colts items, Glaceau VitaminWater, Cadbury Candy, Catch the Action football games and coupons to local businesses including Wendy's, Dick's Sing Goods, Steak and Shake, and Quaker Steak & Lube.
Youth that reached their goals during the season and scored a touchdown attended Wednesday's event.
"It's been great," Shepherd Community Center Development Director Heidi Baniszewski said. "It means a lot to these kids who are probably some of the most vulnerable in our society. They have a series of rejection and not feeling very worthy. It's great when a figure in the community that they respect and has a sense of celebrity takes the time to invest in them.
"We've had people come and visit, but somebody who takes the time in their eyes to create a program shows a long-term commitment – to them that is incredible. The program itself is very good, but even more important is what his involvement says to them.
"He doesn't need to take the time to do that. There are people who have the same amount of prestige and wealth that he does and do nothing with it."
Jackson said being personally involved is important to the program's success, and the only approach with which he would feel comfortable.
"This is more than having a website, or showing up at an event," Jackson said. "This is really what I want to be doing. If I wasn't playing football, I would be even more involved with this. Because I am busy with football, I do have people who help me out, but this is genuine and it's real. It's what I want to be doing."
Jackson said he has spent much of his time recently rehabilitating from the knee injury he sustained in practice on late October. The injury forced him to miss the rest of the Colts' season, which ended with a 23-17 overtime loss to the San Diego Chargers in an AFC Wild Card Playoff game this past Saturday.
"It's been tougher mentally than physically," Jackson said. "I'm used to hard work and having to put in hard work. This is hard work mentally. The rehab, I go every day and do it, but to have to sit back and watch the season progress, and for us to do as well as we did and not be able to be a part of that, was really the thing that hurt most.
"The fact that I was injured, I took it as God telling me to take the time and look at other things in my life and make some changes somewhere else. I took this time to better myself in other areas of my life. I'm healing up well right now and I'm trying to keep that going."
The separation from the team during the season was a new experience, Jackson said, and a difficult one.
"You don't have to be in meetings, and you don't have to go to away games," Jackson said. "When you're rehabbing, you're not even there. I'm watching us play Jacksonville (in December) and I'm like, 'Wow. I'm so far away.' It's surreal. They talk about how physically tough it's going to be – the rehab, the surgery. All of that was nothing to me. The mental aspect of not being around my teammates and not feeling a part of what was going on hurts.
"I told myself, 'I'm not playing right now, but there's someone else somewhere going through something worse than me not playing football.' That put things in perspective. I really do feel this is going to make me a stronger person and a stronger football player overall."
Jackson said he is confident he will return to full strength.
"There's not a doubt in my mind," he said. "People act like it's the end of the world. There's no uncertainty about me. I know my work ethic and I know how I am as a person. I'll be back just like I was if not even better."
Jackson said he, like most around the Colts, is waiting to hear news regarding Colts Head Coach Tony Dungy.
Dungy, who has coached the Colts to playoff appearances in each of his seven seasons with the team, has considered retirement each of the last several seasons. He said Sunday he planned to consider the issue again this week. Dungy said on Sunday he hadn't yet made a decision, and that he would discuss the matter with his wife, Lauren.
The Colts last season promoted Jim Caldwell to Associate Head Coach, and he will become the head coach should Dungy opt to retire.
"Hopefully, we'll have an opportunity to play under Coach Dungy for another year," Jackson said. "If not, Jim Caldwell is a great coach. He does a great job. He has the respect of each and every one of my teammates and myself, so I think it would be no problem if we had to move on to that.
"We all would love to see Coach Dungy come back. He's a great person as well a great coach. That's why we all love to play for him."