For Dan Jackson, the past three years have been about faith.
The moderately-recruited defensive back and running back out of North Hall relied to God when he felt the overwhelming tug to walk-on to the University of Georgia football program and chase his dreams.
Since making that decision, it has been all about hard work, sacrifice and remaining resolute that he made the right decision.
And against pretty long odds to ever make it on the field for the No. 2 Bulldogs, Jackson made it happen on just about the biggest stage possible.
On Saturday, the free safety from Gainesville was on the field for about 25 defensive snaps, recorded one tackle and was heavily involved in special teams in the 10-3 win against No. 6 Clemson to open the 2021 season.
“It was a thrill, that’s for sure,” the redshirt-sophomore Jackson said. “Games like that don’t come around too often. I know how much God has blessed me and I continue to put the Lord first in everything that I do.”
To truly understand what Jackson accomplished, it takes a little context. This former All-State player for the Trojans came in to the Bulldogs’ program only as a preferred walk-on and was given no guarantees he would ever see the playing field.
Much less in the biggest season-opening contest for the Bulldogs since these same two schools met in the 2014 opener.
The depth chart was never stacked in Jackson’s favor, coming in behind guys who were much more sought after by Kirby Smart and the Bulldogs’ coaching staff.
However, Jackson, a business major, knew he probably only had one chance to chase his dream to play at Georgia. So, he set about to pour himself into optimizing his football potential.
That includes every practice, workout and team meeting.
Now, his story is a tale to younger athletes about how hard work, sacrifice and tremendous discipline can pay off.
“Anyone who has a dream of playing, I’d just say keep your faith in the Lord and always be consistent,” Jackson said. “Never let your highs get too high or your lows get too low.”
Even after making his dreams come true and making it on the playing field for Georgia, Jackson remains resolute in staying humble and getting right back to work.
His work is not done and he has a lot more to accomplish with nearly three full years remaining on his playing career in Athens.
The 190-pound defensive back said his rock is a close-knit family and an always-supportive network of his former coaches at North Hall.
Trojans coach David Bishop said having one of his players make it, like Jackson, could had a ripple effect for other players in his program with similar aspirations.
Every step of the way in the process, Jackson has done things the right way, North Hall’s coach said.
“Daniel’s in this position to play at Georgia because making good grades was important to him,” Bishop said. “His academics set him up to be able to chase his dream.”
Jackson said the foundation for his success at home is a close-knit family.
“I’m so blessed to have two parents, two brothers and all my family who have instilled that I should put the Lord first in everything I do,” Jackson said. “I’m very thankful for the way I was raised.”
With so many close relationships at home, it’s not a surprise that Jackson’s phone has been blowing up since Saturday’s game with excited messages from family, friends, former teammates and former coaches.
“It would be hard for me to put a number on the messages I’ve received,” Jackson said. “I’d say it would probably be a couple hundred.”
Jackson set the stage for earning substantial playing time by having a great spring practice in 2021, which included a good performance in the G-Day game last April.
Over the summer, with coaches paying attention to what Jackson was doing for the Bulldogs, he continued to earn their trust and showed he deserved playing time.
Jackson knew prior to playing Clemson that he was going to get some snaps.
However, his performance, which included almost intercepting a pass near the goal line, almost ensured Jackson would continue to be a contributor for the Bulldogs.
“Daniel’s a great example of sticking to what you want to do,” Bishop said. “He’s a high-character person and handles himself so well. We are all so proud of him.”