Bobby Jackson’s children were grown up and graduated.
As proud as he was, sitting through their college graduations, Jackson realized that something was missing: His own college degree.
“I always told my kids to finish what they start,” Jackson said. “It wouldn’t be right for me not to finish when they did.”
Jackson, now 62, began on the journey three years ago as he took classes online. It will conclude with Jackson graduating from Florida State with his degree in Social Sciences on Saturday.
It’s a day he has long thought about since leaving Tallahassee in 1978. Jackson was a successful college career in which he had 10 interceptions, helping coach Bobby Bowden rebuild the Seminoles with a 10-win season in 1977 – including in a rout at Florida and then a bowl win over Texas Tech.
“I knew the importance of beating Florida,” Jackson said. “To be the first team to win 10 games at Florida State, and one of those 10 was to beat Florida soundly in Gainesville, was the highlight of my career. It made everything perfect for me.”
Jackson then began his preparation for the NFL after his senior season. He was drafted in the sixth round and played for the New York Jets from 1978-85, recording 21 interceptions.
Between pro football and seven kids, life became busy. The years passed and he saw his two boys play college football and his five girls grew up, too. He watched all of the graduations, celebrating them. And then a conversation with Butler, who graduated a few years ago, as well as his network of friends encouraged Jackson to hit the books again.
Jackson diligently completed his coursework despite having a full-time job and being a high school football coach in New York.
“There’s a program called the NFL Trust that recently got formed that would pay for former players who didn’t graduate to go back to school,” Jackson said. “You first have to qualify for it and submit an essay.”
The NFL Trust, with backing from the NFL players’ association, works to provide resources to help players receive support and skills to succeed in life after football.
Jackson won’t be like many college graduates, of course. He already has a job, working for Nassau County, N.Y., as a parks director. He also does youth camps and is a football coach at Chaminade High School, an all-boys school that stresses academic achievement.
He has achieved a great deal in his life. Being a college graduate is up there.
“It’s one of the high accomplishments in my life,” Jackson said. “I’m not doing it because I needed a job. I’m ready to retire. It was just something that I said I needed to do.”
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