East Valley's Rodrick Jackson has everything college recruiters look for: size, speed, and a nose for the end zone. But what nobody could see was Jackson was in pain, looking for help as his life was out of control.
“It was really tough, I felt really isolated, my family life started getting a little tough so and me being young, I didn't know what to do,” Jackson said. “So I started acting out and trying to get away from the situation from which I was in.”
With no family to care for him, and no place to call home, Rodrick started looking for something that was missing.
"Just hanging out with the wrong crowd, and doing the wrong things,” Jackson described. “The hard nights out, and sometimes I didn't have a place to stay, and just the difficult situation I put myself in, and the dangerous situations I put myself in."
Jackson dropped out of high school his sophomore year, that was the only thing giving his life any structure. His life was on the path to prison, if he lived long enough to get there.
"I was kind of at my wits end with what I was doing, and I was just tired of trying to find places to stay and trying to find people to love me, and I just kind of broke down," Jackson said.
He was lost, with nowhere to go, but the 17-year-old dug deep, finding the courage to do one of the hardest things any man can do.
"I had to ask for help,” Jackson explained. “It took a little rock bottom for me to realize there was nothing else that I was going to be able to do with my life.”
Only one person came to mind when thinking of who to turn to.
"I felt like he treated me like I've never been treated, with respect, and always lifting me up and making sure that I'm on the right path," Jackson explained.
Tucked into a small room in the lower hallways of East Valley, Rodrick Jackson sat down with head football coach Adam Fisher.
"He full on loses it, breaks down, and I was caught off guard," said Fisher.
The two shared an 18 minute conversation that would change both of their lives.
"I asked for help,” Jackson said. “I just asked him for help with life, I just asked him for help, with support."
"He loses it, I lose it, it was rather emotional,” Fisher adds. “And I said if you're really serious, then I'll talk with my wife and consider doing this, but there's going to be some guidelines and stuff. And so I went home and told my wife, Jolene, I said, 'Hon, I think we might have somebody live at our house.'"
With that, Rodrick was welcomed into the Fisher house, and for the first time in his life, felt like part of a family.
"I never knew what it was like to have a father figure in your life for this long, and make sure that he stays to his word.” Jackson said. “He had never given up on me as a player, and a lot of ways, that made me feel that he had never given up on me as a son."
With a new foundation beneath him, Jackson was ready to go to work. But being a year behind in school, with a G.P.A. that barely registered, was going to be a tough opponent to overcome.
"It feels impossible at first and it seems hard, but you just have to gradually keep working toward what you know is right," said Jackson.
"Before, there wasn't much of a light to even see graduation, to be honest with you, and now there is a light,” Fisher added. “It's going to be under a little different terms, but his story is different circumstances.”
Last year, Jackson finished with a 3.3 G.P.A., proving to himself that he has a lot more to offer than his ability to catch touchdowns.
"It's really rewarding, it makes me feel like I wasn't stupid,” Jackson said. “I could actually apply myself and see what kind of talent I had in my brain instead of in my legs or in my hands."
All it took was for someone to love Rodrick Jackson. Once his heart was full, the entire game had changed.
"Everyone has noticed a dramatic change in his body language, his demeanor, the way he conducts himself, how he communicates to people, his outlook on life, it beams out of him on a daily basis,” Fisher said. "That's more rewarding that anything he does on the field."