Ohio State Left Guard Donovan Jackson Using Final-Play Failure Against Michigan As Motivation for 2024

By Andy Anders on March 4, 2024 at 6:00 pm
Donovan Jackson

Donovan Jackson has been open about the emotional toll last year’s Michigan game took on him personally. Even if it’s difficult to discuss.

The average college football game contains more than 150 plays. To say any one player’s performance on any one play cost a team a game on its own is lunacy.

That said, on Ohio State’s final offensive play against the Wolverines in 2023, Jackson tripped over the leg of center Carson Hinzman while setting up to block defensive end Jaylen Harrell. Harrell hit quarterback Kyle McCord as he released the football and Michigan intercepted the resulting duck of a pass to seal a 30-24 win.

Jackson admitted in December that he didn’t leave his room for days afterward, having to be pulled out by roommate Zen Michalski. The moment replayed in his head time after time like some abhorrent earworm of a sad song.

“It certainly wasn’t an easy time in my life. It’s something I don’t like talking about too much,” Jackson said on Monday.

But the truth is, pain can be an excellent motivator when used correctly by a strong-willed person. And there’s never been any question about Jackson’s will.

So, entering his third season as the Buckeyes’ starting left guard, Jackson is using his failure on that one play to drive him onward in his final campaign in Columbus.

“It’s definitely something I use for motivation,” Jackson said. “Any time I lift, I lift with intent so I know that I’m stronger, faster in that situation than I was before. I’ve talked to my dad, talked to my coaches a lot about, if I come back, I have to be better than I was last year. It’s definitely a driving factor of what I do waking up in the morning to put myself in the right position to where I don’t do that again.”

Coming back wasn’t a given for Jackson. A two-time first-team All-Big Ten selection and five-star prospect out of high school, the road-grader could have bulldozed his way into being a Day 2 NFL draft pick.

In making his decision, Jackson leaned on advice from former Ohio State players in the NFL, namely C.J. Stroud, Thayer Munford, Nicholas Petit-Frere and Paris Johnson Jr., who he called one of his closest friends. There were ways he felt he could improve his draft stock. But ultimately, the unachieved goals from coming up short against Michigan and not getting a Big Ten title shot three years in a row were the No. 1 factor.

Ditto for many of his fellow rising seniors who decided to make their returns. As Jackson put it, they “just want to win.” And they haven’t won the games they wanted to win the most during their careers.

“A lot went into it,” Jackson said. “I talked to guys in my class and where their heads were at, but at the end of the day, it came down to my decision and I thought I just wasn’t content with my college career yet. A lot of guys come in with dreams and aspirations of what they want to do, and for the most part my on-field experience has been good. But I feel like, in terms of what I want to show for myself, what I want to leave behind, it wasn’t quite where I wanted it yet.”

Jackson said he hasn’t regretted his choice a single day since.

“Once I decided to come back, I felt like a weight was lifted off my shoulders,” Jackson said. “I felt like I was able to come back with my brothers one more time and just play fast, play free again.”

“Any time I lift, I lift with intent so I know that I’m stronger, faster in that situation than I was before.”– Donovan Jackson on his motivation after coming up short against Michigan

The native Texan will have to get used to a new face starting alongside him at center in Seth McLaughlin, who transferred in from Alabama in January. Ohio State’s on-field work doesn’t start until Tuesday, and offensive line cohesion is difficult to develop outside that setting. McLaughlin’s been getting close with his teammates off the field, however, Jackson said.

“I feel like in terms of chemistry, there’s only so much you can do as an O-lineman with not hitting something,” Jackson said. “So we’re big, we go out to eat. We’ll go out to eat, we’ll hang out. We’re just trying to build that chemistry. He’s the new guy in the group so we’re just trying to introduce him in, but he’s a great person. He’s fit in just fine.”

Josh Simmons projects to be in his second year starting next to Jackson as the Buckeyes’ left tackle, and another spring together should benefit their rapport as well.

“It’s just more reps,” Jackson said when asked about growing his chemistry with Simmons. “The more reps you get the more the game slows down, especially going against the talented defense that we have. I feel like we have no choice but to get better. So I’m looking forward to it.”

Looking in the mirror, despite his individual accolades, Jackson sees several areas where he can improve through Ohio State’s 15 spring practices. He’s someone who’s never satisfied by where he’s at in his development.

“The main things are working out in space, second-level mechanics and just straining on the back end of plays,” Jackson said. “I feel like those are the main areas that I definitely need to work on going back and watching every play of last year. There are a lot of things I did well, but well isn’t gonna get you far. You’ve gotta be great in those areas. That’s the fun thing about football, you’re never at a point where you’re like, ‘Hey, I’m good.’ Because you’re never ‘good.’ There’s always something you can improve on.”

Through it all, the end of the Michigan game will provide quiet motivation in the back of his mind.

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