Quarterback Kurt Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, receivers Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt and offensive lineman Orlando Pace were among the Rams players who starred at the Edward Jones Dome and won a Super Bowl during Jackson’s youth.
Jackson also played in the stadium — during halftime exhibitions featuring local Pop Warner teams. When he stepped onto the artificial turf, his goal was always the same.
“The only thing on my mind was playing well so I could go to Dave & Buster’s,” Jackson said, referring to the restaurant and arcade chain. “That’s what my dad always did for me.
“He said give him three touchdowns and he’d take me to Dave & Buster’s. So I pretty much went to Dave & Buster’s every weekend during football season.”
Jackson moved to California after his first year of high school. He starred at multiple positions at Gardena Serra and USC before the Tennessee Titans selected him with the 18th pick in this year’s draft.
On Sunday, Jackson will start at cornerback and return kicks for the Titans when they play host to the Rams at Nissan Stadium in a game that has playoff implications for both teams.
The Titans are 8-6 and in second place behind the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC South, needing a win and some help to get in. The Rams are 10-4 — their first 10-win season since Jackson was 8 years old — and can clinch the NFC West with a victory.
“It will be strange because I always wanted to play for them growing up as a kid,” Jackson said during a phone interview last week. “But being able to play against them is one of those things that’s pretty cool.”
Jackson, 22, has started every game at cornerback. He has broken up 14 passes and forced two fumbles. On special teams he is averaging 21.3 yards per kickoff return and 9.3 yards per punt return. He also has rushed for 55 yards in five carries but has not run the ball in the past four games.
Rams rookie running back Justin Davis was a teammate of Jackson for three seasons at USC. Receiver Robert Woods, a fifth-year pro, played at Serra and USC and has watched Jackson evolve as a cornerback and return specialist.
“He’s made a lot of plays,” Woods said. “He’s an exciting player on punt returns, one of those very, very elusive players. ... When he gets the ball in his hands, he’s a very dangerous player.”
A matchup with Woods would be Jackson’s second this season against a former Serra and USC All-American receiver.
Jackson covered Jacksonville’s Marqise Lee on several plays during the Titans’ Week 2 victory over the Jaguars. Lee, a fourth-year pro, caught seven passes for 76 yards.
“It was cool to see Marqise out there,” Jackson said. “I always wanted to play with him, but when I transferred to Serra, he was leaving. And when I got to SC, he left. ... Playing against him, it was an honor.
“We always keep in touch. He’s like a big bro in my eyes, one of those guys I tried to model my game after when I was at Serra.”
Jackson also knows Woods, who returned from a shoulder injury for last week’s 42-7 victory at Seattle. Woods has 53 catches, five for touchdowns.
“We’ve all been in touch, worked out together a couple times,” Jackson said. “From Woods to Lee, it’s just cool the connection we have. It’s bigger than just football. It’s like a brotherhood we have from being at the same high school and college.”
Jackson said he was improving each week, “getting smarter, getting better, tuning up some things to play at a high level” every week.
Jackson left USC with a season of eligibility remaining. He said he was close to finishing his undergraduate degree and has considered pursuing a master’s degree.
But his focus is on football.
“Having the whole offseason, without having to get ready for the draft and prepare for the combine and be able to focus on certain things, I think that’s going to be a big help going into my second year,” he said.
First, he’ll concentrate on containing Woods and other Rams receivers, and helping the Titans stay in the playoff race.
He also plans to acquire a Rams souvenir.
“I’m sure after the game, I got to do a jersey swap or something with Woods,” he said, “so I can have one of those jerseys to hang up.”