Inglewood, Calif., has always been a tale of two worlds. When the Los Angeles Lakers played at the Great Western Forum, the city was known for its lavish basketball arena. Many people who came to the arena, however, failed to realize that a significant number of Inglewood residents struggled to pay for necessities, with Lakers tickets being completely out of reach.
Now that former USC defensive end Lawrence Jackson is in the NFL, he is using his platform as a professional athlete to improve the conditions in his hometown.
“After living in both of those worlds, I want people to know what is really going on,” Jackson said in an interview at Heritage Hall. “I have seen hell and I have seen heaven, and I want to help make the whole situation paradise.”
Growing up, Jackson had friends that died or went to jail because of drugs or violence. In order to stay out of trouble, he had to make tough choices to avoid the pitfalls his friends fell into.
“There is no other city that could have produced me the way that I am today than Inglewood,” Jackson said. “Growing up in a situation like that taught me independence. The only way that I can explain it is like being a lion cub in a safari. When you are with your parents, it is cool, but when you are alone the hyenas can come get you.”
Playing football kept Jackson out of harm’s way after school. He had a decorated prep career at Inglewood High School before enrolling at USC. In college, Jackson redshirted his first year before becoming a four-year starter. He led the Trojans with 10.5 sacks as a senior and was drafted in the first round of the 2008 NFL draft by the Seattle Seahawks.
As a rookie, Jackson had 29 tackles and two sacks for the Seahawks. Last season, he had 32 tackles, 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles.
“I think the transition was eased a little bit because of the publicity we had at this school,” Jackson said about going from USC to the NFL. “Being exposed to the circus early on and having [USC Sports Information Directors] Tim [Tessalone] and Paul [Goldberg] there to guide us really prepared us. Athletically, the transition was easier than for most because of the level of competition we had.”
Jackson also recognizes how important the skill level of those around him during his time at USC helped him prepare for his career in the NFL.
“[Mark Sanchez] was the quarterback we went against in scrimmages, so he got better, but we also got better,” Jackson said. “I am thankful that I was around the players I was around.”
Now that Pete Carroll has left USC to become the head coach of the Seahawks, Jackson will be reunited with his college mentor.
“Knowing what the [Seahawks] organization was all about internally and seeing it from that perspective, I felt that there was a good chance [Carroll] would come up because you could not turn down the offer that he had,” Jackson said. “The good thing for me is that I am experienced. [The new Seahawks coaching staff knows] who I am as a player.”
Jackson also knows that the new coaching staff has seen his maturation over the course of his career.
“I get to use the five years that I was coached [at USC] and the two years I was coached in the [National Football] League, and take all of that and move forward in this next decade,” Jackson said. “I have my chance to leave my mark on the NFL.”
Another one of Jackson’s former coaches at USC, Lane Kiffin, is now the university’s head football coach.
“I am not worried about it at all,” Jackson said about the hiring of Kiffin. “This was the best hire they could have made, in terms of having somebody from the program that helped build it and took the beatings of the real world and came back with that experience. I think he will do a great job.”
In the NFL offseason, Jackson enjoys coming back to USC and talking to the younger players.
“I received a lot of knowledge from the older guys,” Jackson said. “Me being who I am, independent of the football persona, and staying true to that, I remind the younger guys of little things that other athletes might not be telling them, so to see them go off and be successful is huge.”
When he is not training for football, Jackson enjoys photography. In addition, Jackson is working on a book that will document how he overcame obstacles living in Inglewood.
“I want to be a catalyst for change,” Jackson said. “I want to shift the paradigm on athletes. I want my voice to be heard because I have been blessed with a unique perspective on things, and I have experienced a lot personally that a lot of people don’t know.”
To hear Seth Rubinroit’s full interview with Lawrence Jackson, click below.