The East Valley senior, a wide receiver/defensive back, possessed the speed and skill of a potential Division I football player. But he was lost. That’s when Knights coach Adam Fisher and his wife, Jolene, stepped up.
“We are literally living the ‘Blind Side’ movie,” says Adam.
Just eight months ago, Jackson told Fisher he had nowhere to go and “I have nobody.”
Jackson didn’t earn a full load of credits at EV as a freshman. And he dropped out of school a month into his sophomore year.
He doesn’t know where his biological dad is and he moved away from his mom after his freshman year because the “difficulties were severe,” he said, not wanting to be specific.
His sophomore year he bounced around living with four different families and being homeless at times. “There aren’t many good situations on the streets,” he said. “I saw some ugly, scary sides of life.”
Near the start of his junior year he sought a more permanent living arrangement with a CHINS (child in need of services) petition. When that didn’t work out, he approached Fisher.
“He went into full-on tears three times and composed himself three times,” Fisher said of the private meeting last January. “He told me he wanted to make life changes and wanted to play college football.”
Fisher told Jackson he had to change his life before he could ever think about college football. He also offered his home and family to Jackson.
“I said that before talking to my wife,” admitted Fisher.
“I had reached my wit’s end,” Jackson said. “I got tired of how I was living life and wanted more structure, love and care. He (Fisher) had always been straightforward with me. I felt like there was nobody else I could ask that could help me.”
A little more than a month later, the Fishers had gained court-appointed oversight of Jackson. He moved in with the Fishers on March 2.
The Fishers were all in, including buying an airline ticket to Hawaii so that Jackson could be part of a family vacation.
“If he was going to be part of our family, he had to be part of our family in every way,” Adam said.
Independent of each other, Adam and Jolene had begun searching for the cheapest round-trip ticket to Hawaii.
“Rodrick was coming with us come hell or high water,” Jolene said.
Life with the Fishers
The Fishers sat down with Rodrick and shared ground rules. There would be a curfew and he would have chores like in any other family.
“We told him we’d do everything possible to create a family atmosphere but there were some non-negotiables to live with us,” Adam said.
Jackson’s life had an immediate turnaround.
With guidance from his new family, Jackson finished the second semester last year with a 3.3 GPA.
Jolene said Rodrick had been living with the Fishers about two weeks when they talked about how they were going to refer to each other when they were around family and friends.
“Rodrick said ‘I want to call you dad and mom’ and I said ‘I want to call you son’,” Adam said.
And while they were in Hawaii, they had family pictures taken with Rodrick.
“We have them hung on our walls at home,” Jolene said. “We knew he needed to feel like he belonged and wasn’t a visitor in our home. We made it official.”
He spent the summer doing summer school and online classes. But even with those credits and the ones he will earn this year, he’s going to fall about three core credits short of graduating.
Adam plans to file a hardship with District 7 seeking another year of eligibility. He figures Jackson would graduate with one more semester.
Jackson turns 18 in December. That’s when he’ll get his driver’s license. The Fishers have a vehicle for him to drive.
At some point Jackson wants to legally change his last name to Fisher.
“It’s been hard at times but I’d say 90 percent has been very good and 10 percent hard,” Jolene said. “He’s been such a great kid. It was an adjustment for him, too, from a poverty perspective to see his needs taken care of and some wants too. We told him from the beginning we were going to treat him no different than our daughters.”
Said Adam: “As much as we’ve helped him, he’s blessed our lives. Jolene and I have grown so much. He needed help. It was the Christian thing to do.”
EV athletics secretary Jackie Fatur has known Jackson since his freshman year.
“We always knew that there was a good person in there, but he didn’t have the support system,” Fatur said.
Jackson walks around EV with his head high and smiling. That’s a stark contrast to the Jackson who was sullen and downcast before.
“Just as soon as Rodrick moved in with Adam and Jolene he was bombarded with love, affection … big-time structure,” Fatur said. “He hadn’t been living with them three weeks when I took him aside and said ‘I hope you understand how blessed you are’. He said ‘Jackie, I’m not going to mess this up’. Adam and Jolene are saving a life.”
Jackson turned out for track for the first time last spring. In just his fourth meet, he ran a 10.9 at the Pasco Invite and took fifth in the 100 meters.
He had to quit shortly thereafter because of shin splints, due in large part because he was putting on weight and getting stronger.
When he moved in with the Fishers he weighed 168 pounds. Through good nutrition the 6-foot-2 Jackson now weighs 193 pounds.
The University of Idaho and UTEP have offered scholarships contingent upon Jackson becoming academically eligible. Eastern Washington also is interested.
Jackson has been electronically timed at 4.51 in the 40, has a 41-inch vertical and can broad jump 10 feet, 1/2 inches.
“His measurables are very good – (NCAA) Division I football very good,” Fisher said.
Jackson earned second-team All-Great Northern League last year at wide receiver and defensive back. This fall he’s picked up where he left off. He has 23 receptions for 553 yards and five touchdowns.
The Fishers can’t wait to see how Rodrick’s life plays out from here.
“The story will continue, this isn’t the end,” Adam said. “The biggest piece for us is to finish this chapter of his life and get him graduated and on to college.”
A finish that was far from reality as recent as eight months ago.
“I have to pinch myself at times,” Jackson said. “God was looking out for me. This has been everything and more.”