A Heisman Trophy winner with unfinished business? That’s the situation Lamar Jackson finds himself in this season. Jackson had one of the most statistically dominant campaigns in college football history, but a late slump left him and his Louisville teammates wanting more. And a hungry Jackson is an especially frightening prospect for the teams on Louisville’s schedule this year.
College football’s most electrifying and dangerous player is also one of its most engaging and humble, as we found out in this offseason encounter with the Cardinals quarterback.
Q&A with Louisville Quarterback Lamar Jackson
When did you first realize you had a chance to win the Heisman Trophy?
I tell everyone this: Not until I had it. There were a lot of us that did a lot of great things last year. Deshaun [Watson] with his success. Jabrill [Peppers] with his success. Baker [Mayfield] and his receiver [Dede Westbrook]. I was the youngest one out of the group, and I felt like anything could have happened. I was just happy to be in New York, and when they finally called my name then I knew I had it.
Even though you were considered the leader the entire season and everybody was predicting you were the winner?
I really didn’t pay attention to that. I tried to stay away from it as much as I could. A lot of people get sidetracked by that stuff. I just tried to stay focused and win games.
What’s the one thing that sticks out in your mind from the night you won the Heisman?
There are a lot of things that stick out in my mind. I met a lot of great people. My family was there. It was crazy, like I said before, I almost cried. I think [U of L teammate Brandon] Radcliff jinxed me. He was like, ‘Don’t cry when you get on stage, bro.’ I said, ‘I won’t cry if I win it.’ Then I almost cried. So I’d say that I’d remember that the most.
Have you gone back and watched the Heisman Show on ESPN?
Oh, no. I have the award. I’m just thankful for it. I’m even more thankful now. I’m just ready to play football because I feel like I didn’t finish what I started last year.
Have you kept in touch with any of the people you met in New York?
Sure. All of us talk. Jabrill. Deshaun. Dede. Bake. We message each other on social media.
How about the past winners?
No, I haven’t. I haven’t really talked to them. Maybe Johnny (Manziel).
He came to your room in New York after the ceremony, right?
Yes. He was speaking positive. He told me it was just the beginning. He left after that. He just talked to me for a few minutes.
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How much of a college football historian are you?
I did know the history of the guys that I met, but I don’t really put myself in their shoes yet. I still have two years left to play football, and there’s a lot of work that I need to do.
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That’s interesting that you said, “two years.”
Because you’re planning on staying for two more years?
I’m just ready for this year right now and hopefully whatever will happen next year.
Had you known or followed many of the other Heisman winners?
Tim Tebow. His home is Florida, too, just like mine. I knew about him growing up. I felt like Florida was a great championship team and that he led his team with authority.
Were the Gators your team?
No, the (Miami) Hurricanes.
Has it been tough for you to go out after winning the Heisman?
A lot of people recognize me. We have a lot of football fanatics. They like to come up and take pictures. That’s cool. I like to meet new people. The fans show love. That’s what it’s all about.
Somebody told me that you never turn a kid down for an autograph?
No. I got turned down for an autograph by a professional football player when I was younger. That kind of hurt me. I overlooked it. But every time a kid comes up to me and wants to take a picture, I have to stop.
Who turned you down?
Randy Moss. It was a fundraiser for kids back at a field in Pompano Beach. He was out there with a lot of other professional guys. I had my shirt [to sign]. The NFL guys signed the shirts. He was done pretty much. He had signed enough. I guess I was the last one. It hurt a couple of our feelings. He was Randy Moss, a great player.
How surprised were you by your success last year?
I wouldn’t say I was surprised because I was hungry and I wanted our team to build and bring the championship here last year. Hopefully we’ve got another two years to do it. While I’m here, we’re going to try to make it happen.
What’s your best memory from last season?
There were so many. We had a great year. We went 9–4. A lot of people don’t do that. I don’t really have a favorite.
Not the leap at Syracuse?
I did that in high school so that wasn’t so different.
Coach Bobby Petrino runs a detailed passing game. How challenging was the adjustment from high school to college?
He saw me throw the ball before I got here. He liked my film. I just had to learn the system. That was my biggest thing. In high school, we really didn’t have to go out there and have a playbook and study that. Here you have to do that. You’re on a whole other level. You have to know what the defense is doing. That was my biggest thing, transitioning to college. Studying films, making reads, progressions. I wanted him to be tough on me, and he has been doing that ever since I’ve been here. He treats me just like everyone else. Nobody is special on the team. I’m here to get coached.
Coach Petrino has said that you think you can make yardage on every play but that you need to improve on throwing the ball away and not taking hits.
He always tells me that he doesn’t want me to take sacks. He wants me to throw the ball away. He knows I can take it. I love the game. Hits come with it.
You talked about starting strong last season when Louisville rose to fifth in the College Football Payoff poll before you lost your last three games. Have you talked about what went wrong?
I really can’t put my mind or finger on what happened. It won’t happen this year. Fumbles were one thing. I fumbled a lot last year. I wasn’t expecting that. I really didn’t pay attention to it until the end of the season when I fumbled like every game. I don’t like that. I was being careless with the ball.
What position would you play if you weren’t a quarterback?
Quarterback. I don’t really look at other positions. Quarterback is something I’ve been doing my whole life. That’s all I know.
Nobody ever talked to you about being a running back or a receiver or defensive back?
No, sir. I won’t hit and I’m not good at catching. Only catching snaps.
Did you play any other positions coming up?
Youth league, I played safety.
What’s your best sport other than football?
Football is the only sport I ever played.
No. My coaches wouldn’t let me. The basketball coach at my high school wouldn’t let me. Baseball, I wanted to play but the baseball coach wouldn’t let me.
I don’t know. He said, “Play football for the school.”
What is your favorite stadium to play in other than Louisville’s Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium?
Clemson. It was loud in Clemson. It was nice. Big crowd. There was a lot of energy in that game. It’s very loud.
What was the best defense you faced last year?
Houston. No. 10 [Ed Oliver] was nice. I give all credit to him. He’s a nice guy. I give credit to their entire defense. They played the whole four quarters. Every game can’t go your way. We’re going to build from that.
As the season progressed and you were getting more and more national publicity, did you become a target for opposing defenses?
Oh yeah. They would always say something to me, but I don’t pay it no mind. That’s part of football. They’re always going to say what they want to and try to take you out of your game. You’ve got stay focused.
What did they say? That you’re not that good or overhyped?
All kind of stuff. They’ll say anything. I don’t pay attention to it. I don’t try to remember what they said. I didn’t say “I’m going to come back and get you.” I don’t talk back. Just play.
Who’s the best athlete on your team?
We’ve got some freaks on our team. Reggie Bonnafon. Seth Dawkins. Dee Smith. There’s a lot of guys on our team that can do many things. I can’t just name one.
Who’s the most famous person who congratulated you on the Heisman?
Michael Vick. That’s my favorite player, so you know I’m always going to say Michael Vick. Also Peyton Manning. It was cool talking to him, too, because that’s the GOAT.
Did they give you any advice?
A lot of things. Peyton Manning told me that if you’re not having fun with it, always talk with your guys. Talk to the people around the program who can help you with stuff like that. You’ve got to always have a smile on your face. People are always watching.
Winning the Heisman hasn’t seemed to change you.
Not at all. I’m still the same person. I just have the Heisman Trophy now, that’s all.