Janzen Jackson. (Associated Press)
Last Modified: Tuesday, June 24, 2014 2:49 PM
The small cell Janzen Jackson sits in is miles from home and a lifetime away from where he ever expected to be.
Once able to run free on the grass fields of his youth, Jackson is now limited to moving about a confined area, every move watched.
It’s the saddest chapter in a story that started with such promise and now seems only tragic.
But this is no drama; this is a real life story, one filled with what ifs and might have beens.
Instead of working on his skills at some football minicamp, Jackson remains in Los Angeles’ Twin Towers Correctional Facility awaiting a trial that will determine his future.
Having seen the cold structure filled with helplessness and desperation, the Towers is no place for anybody, let alone a 23-year-old who just a few short years ago had the chance most of us could only dream of.
Given a gift of great athletic talent, Jackson appeared headed to a far better place than where he now finds himself.
The former Barbe High and McNeese State football star has been charged with the murder of his mother’s boyfriend with his own hands. He’s being held on $1 million bond.
Police say Jackson strangled Frank Herrera on Sept. 11, 2013, and then stuffed him a car.
Jackson has pleaded not guilty with his next court date set for July 15.
His mother has testified that her son was suffering from mental problems and hearing voices, according to a report in the Orange (Calif.) County Register.
It’s hard to imagine what Jackson was or is now going through. We only know that for the past few years he has found more than his share of trouble.
This isn’t a case of one wasted chance at a bright future but rather multiple chances thrown away.
When he left Barbe as an All-American prep star, he first picked LSU but changed his mind and went to the University of Tennessee. There he found both stardom and trouble.
After an arrest for his part in an armed robbery, Jackson found himself cleared as only being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He claimed he didn’t know the two other Tennessee players were going to commit the crime.
Jackson was put back on the team and played up to his talents. He seemed headed to the pros.
He looked as if he was going to make the most of that second chance.
But again he found trouble and was booted off the Tennessee team just a few days before the start of his junior season by then-coach Derek Dooley for undisclosed disciplinary reasons.
Jackson had run out of chances in Knoxville.
Still he had hope. Jackson soon found a place to play and right himself when McNeese head coach Matt Viator agreed to let him join the Cowboys.
Viator was helping out a friend as much as anything else. He also believed he was giving a local kid another chance at that bright future.
Jackson is the son of a current, but at the time former, McNeese assistant coach.
With local ties it was hoped that Jackson would make the most of this next second chance.
He played one year with the Cowboys, doing well enough to make some plays here and there but never really dominating in the Southland Conference like he did in the powerful SEC.
There was no big splash, just some good play.
Fact is Jackson seemed disinterested in the game and detached from the Cowboys and campus life.
Jackson looked like a guy going through the motions, getting by on talent alone. He did have plenty of that for sure.
A second season at McNeese seemed like it would have helped him off the field as well as on, but Jackson had bigger dreams.
He left McNeese a year early and entered the NFL draft. At the combine he didn’t exactly turn heads, but he did enough to earn a tryout with the New York Giants.
Jackson was cut before the season began in 2012 and headed to Canada, where he played for the Toronto Argonauts.
But when that ended he found himself in Los Angeles, living with his mother. Once again it seems trouble found him, or maybe he just found trouble.
Now he’s in his biggest battle, but we’re way past fun and games. It seems a jury will be the ultimate judge on whether Jackson gets yet another chance.
Either way it’s a story that can’t have much of a happy ending.
Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org