Even though he is now playing for one of their Big Ten East rivals, the men who represented Rutgers at Big Ten Media Days on Friday had nothing but good things to say about Jonah Jackson.
Jackson left Rutgers this offseason as a graduate transfer and is now competing for a starting spot on the offensive line at Ohio State, who plays at Rutgers on Nov. 16, but the Scarlet Knights still think highly of their former teammate and expect him to be successful as a Buckeye.
“Jonah’s a special dude,” Rutgers offensive lineman Zach Venesky said Friday in Chicago. “Ohio State having him, they’re getting a quality guy who’s just going to bring everything he has to the table and give them everything that he has, and they’re very lucky to get him.”
Jackson announced his decision to transfer to Ohio State for his final season of collegiate eligibility in February, about one month he informed Rutgers that he would leave the program. Rutgers coach Chris Ash said that while he wanted Jackson, the Scarlet Knights’ starting right guard and a team captain in 2018, to finish out his career at Rutgers, he wishes Jackson the best of luck and respected his decision to do what he thought was best for him.
“We were hoping he’d be a good senior captain for us and continue to develop, but he’s in a different program now,” said Ash, a former Ohio State assistant coach, who said he did not consult with Jackson on his decision to become a Buckeye. “He’s got to make the decision for what’s best for his future and his family and it wasn’t my place to try to advise him on those decisions. He made those on his own.”
Like Ash, Jackson’s former teammates who attended Big Ten Media Days all said they did not try to change his decision – even though they wanted to play with him for another year – because they respected his right to make the decision that he felt was best for him.
“Jonah Jackson is actually a pretty close friend of mine,” said Rutgers linebacker Tyshon Fogg. “His departure was definitely something meaningful for us but that’s going to do something great for him. And he’s definitely a great guy. He’s going to contribute to the Buckeyes very well.”
Jackson’s former teammates described him as a player who works hard and leads by example, while also stepping up to become a vocal leader in situations that called for it. Jackson is a “very competitive guy,” Fogg said, and he pushed his teammates at Rutgers to be better.
“When guys were slacking or when guys were at times where they weren’t at their best, he always made sure to pick them up and push them to do better,” Fogg said.
Venesky said that Jackson “gets along with everybody, but even though he gets along with everybody, he’s willing to step up to the plate when he needs to confront somebody if there’s an issue.”
“He holds people accountable,” Venesky said. “He’s a student of the game. He’s a guy who he’s always watching film, and he’s just a tough dude, and I respect a lot about him.”
“They’re getting a quality guy who’s just going to bring everything he has to the table and give them everything that he has, and they’re very lucky to get him.”– Rutgers offensive lineman Zach Venesky on Jonah Jackson
Redshirt junior linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams said Jackson is “consistent in doing his job,” which made his teammates want to follow his lead.
“He’s consistent at stopping somebody that’s trying to get past him and get to the quarterback,” Maddox-Williams said. “He’s protecting the quarterback pretty well. And when somebody’s that consistent, you start looking at that and you’re like ‘I want to be like that.’”
Maddox-Williams also said that while Jackson isn’t someone who always needs to have his voice heard, he could command his teammates’ attention whenever he decided he needed to speak up.
“When it was time for him to talk, you listened. It just was a natural thing, because you knew that he wasn’t going to bullshit you, you knew that he was going to keep it real with you,” Maddox-Williams said. “So the moments he did talk, everybody was there to listen, and that’s when he showed that he was a good leader. Because he always kept it real with you.”
Jackson isn’t always a serious guy, though. Both Maddox-Williams and Venesky described him as someone who makes jokes “all the time” and likes to talk trash.
“He’s a ball-buster,” Maddox-Williams said. “He’s big as ever so he’s always trying to fake like he about to do something to you but he’s just a big-bellied, funny dude. He’s goofy. He just wants to play around.”
“When it was time for him to talk, you listened. It just was a natural thing, because you knew that he wasn’t going to bullshit you, you knew that he was going to keep it real with you.”– Rutgers linebacker Tyreek Maddox-Williams on Jonah Jackson's leadership
Maddox-Williams expects he and Jackson, who he said had sent him a text message complimenting his suit on Friday, to send each other plenty of trash talk back-and-forth leading up to the 6-foot-4, 305-pound offensive lineman’s November return trip to Rutgers.
“If he was going to go somewhere, I’m like, ‘You got to go to Ohio State or somewhere that we can play you. How you going to leave and think we ain’t going to get to beat you up for it?’” Maddox-Willams said. “So I was very happy he went to a team that we going to play him.
“Once I actually see him in that other uniform and it’s time to go, I think that intensity is going to be on a whole another level, and I’m really going to want to kill him,” Maddox-Williams added. “As soon as I see him on that field, I’m coming to get him. But we going to love it up afterwards.”
Jackson, who is expected to be the Buckeyes’ starting left guard this season, was just one of several Rutgers players who chose to leave the Scarlet Knights after their 1-11 season last year. Fullback Max Anthony (Albany) and tight ends Travis Vokolek (Nebraska) and Nakia Griffin-Stewart (Pitt) are also among the notable players who chose to transfer to other schools this offseason.
The trio of current Scarlet Knights captains who were in Chicago this week, though, hold no ill will against those players who made the decision to transfer, and they all still consider Jackson to be a friend.
Venesky said that he, Jackson, Griffin-Stewart and Anthony actually all got together to hang out earlier this month.
“It was really cool to see him,” Venesky said in reference to Jackson. “Like I said, that’s my brother for life.”
Ash didn’t want to speculate on what role Jackson would play at Ohio State this season, and he has yet to actually participate in a practice with the Buckeyes after just arriving in Columbus this summer. So far, though, Ohio State coach Ryan Day likes what he has seen from Jackson and expects him to be a valuable addition to the Buckeyes’ offensive line this year.
“He's played a lot of football,” Day said of Jackson, who started five games at center for Rutgers in 2017 before starting 11 games at right guard last season. “He's going to have to learn the offense quickly. The good news for him is that there was a year there at Rutgers where they were actually using a lot of our same terminology, so there's some carryover there for him. I assume he's going to pick it up pretty quick. He's smart, he's sharp, he’s tough and he's played a lot of football.”