“I'm already bad with names,” Jackson said, “so that doesn't help me at all.”
Jackson, a graduate transfer from Virginia Tech, visited campus for a few weekends during the spring semester, but he couldn’t enroll in time for spring ball because he needed to finish his degree. Since moving to his new college town, Jackson has been tasked with learning a new system that his teammates already installed, a book full of plays and, of course, the names of everyone who surrounds him in the team meeting room.
As college programs around the country begin preseason practice, many coaches will repeat a familiar line: There is competition at quarterback. That’s true at Maryland, too.
Many view Jackson as the likely starter for the Terrapins. Graduate transfers usually head to programs where they feel confident they’ll have a meaningful role, and he brings experience to a position group that has been plagued by injury and uncertainty in recent years. But Maryland’s coaches also hadn’t seen Jackson’s on-field ability firsthand until Friday’s practice.
“The guy who gives us the best chance to win the ballgame is going to be the guy who runs out there August 31st,” Coach Michael Locksley said, referencing the team’s season opener against Howard. “We’re not in a hurry to figure it out. We’ll let it play itself out through the course of our camp.”
The quarterbacks room has depth. Tyrrell Pigrome finished last season as the starter after Kasim Hill tore his ACL in the 10th game. (Hill is no longer with the team.) Tyler DeSue played well in the spring game when Pigrome sat out for precautionary reasons after tweaking his knee. Max Bortenschlager started eight games in 2017 when Pigrome and Hill suffered season-ending injuries.
The starter, Locksley said, will be the player who can take care of the football and help optimize the talent of the playmakers around him. Through the preseason, Maryland will use data to track all of the quarterbacks as they perform side-by-side for the first time.
“Everybody’s going to have a chance,” Jackson said. “And I’ve competed many times, so I’m just going to try to be the best I can, and hopefully that means I get to be on the field.”
With the Hokies, Jackson earned the job as a redshirt freshman, throwing for 2,991 yards and 20 touchdowns. His passing yards stood as the most among Power Five conference freshmen. Jackson added another 324 yards and six touchdowns rushing. But after that standout season, Jackson broke his left fibula three games into the 2018 campaign and missed the rest of the year.
When Locksley arrived at Maryland just after last season ended, he didn’t know much about the roster. He had only followed the Terps from a distance. But taking over the program just a few miles from where he grew up, he said, “it was important for me to bring in an established guy” at quarterback.
Locksley knows Jackson’s father, Fred, a veteran college coach, and in Locksley’s eyes that immediately added to Jackson’s résumé.
“I have an affinity for coaches’ kids,” Locksley said. “I like coaches’ kids because I know they understand the game from watching and being around their dad in the game. They understand the importance of the right kind of behaviors and habits.”
Jackson said his father assured him that Locksley was a quality coach and someone he trusted. Jackson saw what Locksley accomplished with the Alabama offense, and that helped his decision, too.
Since Jackson has been on campus, what offensive coordinator Scottie Montgomery calls the quarterback’s “great football pedigree” has shined through. Jackson exerted the effort to build relationships with his peers. Montgomery said Jackson showed both the maturity and the humility needed to walk into a room of strangers and earn their trust. As camp progresses, he’ll get to showcase what he brings to the team on the field.
“When I watch other quarterbacks, if somebody’s not open, they just run or get out of bounds,” said wide receiver Sean Savoy, another transfer from Virginia Tech, who played with Jackson there. “Josh is like: ‘Okay, that’s not open. I’m going to go to the next read. I’m going to go to my check-down. I’m going to throw it out of bounds.’ He stays in the moment of the game to where he’s not panicking or doing anything to make a lot of bad decisions that can hurt the team.”
He’s a leader, Savoy said, adding that Jackson will vocalize if he wants a route run a certain way to get the timing perfect. Even in seven-on-seven games during the offseason, wide receiver Jeshaun Jones noticed Jackson’s poise, the way he doesn’t get fazed.
“He looks comfortable,” Jones said. “I can tell he’s been here before.”
Yes, this is Jackson’s first time practicing in College Park and his first time wearing a Maryland jersey. But understanding the responsibility of a quarterback, what it takes to earn a starting role, the competition within the quarterbacks room and how to make the best on-field decisions? For Jackson, that’s all familiar.