Wrong Turns and Bad Decisions: The Fate of Camm Jackson
by Neal Williams
TSL Extra, Issue #11

In the mid-1990's, Camm Jackson and David Pugh were stars at Amherst County High School. Pugh was a lineman, and Jackson was a running back and linebacker, and as juniors in 1995, they had helped Amherst win the state Group AA championship. They had big plans for the collegiate level, and in the fall of 1997, both headed to Virginia Tech, not far from their Madison Heights homes.

Pugh, Amherst coach Mickey Crouch said, "was a real hard worker, blessed with good strength and speed."

Jackson, Crouch said, "had more natural ability than anybody Iíve ever coached, and Iíve been coaching 31 years."

They were two future stars.

Except one went the wrong way.

Pughís vision, as you know, was realized. Heís a senior defensive tackle and one of the Hokiesí best players. If injuries donít derail him, he is looking at a professional career.

But Camm Jackson never played for Virginia Tech. In the years following his signing with Virginia Tech, poor choices were his frequent companion, and he quickly produced a long criminal file. He hopes the worst is over. Heís back home now, working and raising a family, and sometimes, he admits, wondering what might have been.

"I miss it so bad," Jackson said. "Iím sitting there watching David, heís doing great things now. I should be there right beside him. Thatís run through my mind a lot.

"Iíve come to terms with it. I canít change any of it. I have to learn from it."

Different Directions

David Pughís progress at Tech is easy to track. You simply grab a Hokies media guide and marvel at the details:

*He was an All-Big East selection after the 2000 season.
*He tied for the team lead in sacks with five and tackles for losses with 12.
*He had 10 career sacks coming into the season.
*Lindyís magazine ranks Pugh the fourth-best defensive tackle in the country. Heís No. 6 per The Sporting News.

Finding out Camm Jacksonís history takes a little more work, because you won't find him in any Tech media guides. He never actually played for the Hokies. To find out about his activities around Virginia Tech, you must make several stops.

The first such stop is the clerkís office of the Montgomery County Circuit Court in Christiansburg. You request file No. CR99-15888 and get a thick packet of information in return. You next go the General District Court clerkís office in Blacksburg and type in Cameron Darnell Jackson on the system computer. While youíre out, stop at the Virginia Tech Police Department.

Hereís some of what youíll learn:

In early 1999, Jackson stole a checkbook belonging to Richard J. Oldland, a Tech student from Chesapeake. Over the course of two months in early 1999, he signed Oldlandís name to six checks:

*$27.27 to Wal-Mart.
*$33.33 to Wal-Mart
*$22.68 to Wal-Mart.
*$34.54 to Wal-Mart
*$100 to cash
*$75 to cash.

Thatís six counts of forge and utter. Jackson was arrested on May 14, 1999, and eventually, he was convicted and sentenced to five years in jail, all suspended. He had to pay court costs of $4,645.69 and make restitution, and he was also placed on supervised probation.

Unfortunately, that's not the end of his troubles. On Sept. 15, 2000, probation officer Chadwick T. Phillips filed a letter noting that Jackson's probation conditions were violated. Chadwick requested a hearing, and the next month, six months of Jacksonís suspended sentence were revoked. Jackson went off to the Montgomery County Jail.

There were also rumors that Jackson was involved in drugs. Although no charges of that nature were ever filed against him in Montgomery County, a letter in his file written by Jackson to Judge Ray W. Grubbs, asking for consideration for early release, answers the question. In it, Jackson admits to two failed drug screenings while on probation.

"The last conversation I had with him was during that spring practice (spring of 1998) his first year," Crouch said. "You could tell something was going on. He wasnít the same kid he was in high school."

Looking for Clues

So what happened to Cameron Darnell Jackson? How did he go from potential football star to inmate? Could something have been done?

Easy answers donít exist. Jackson, to his credit, blames no one. He made poor choices, he admits, and he paid the price.

He went to Tech excited. This was a kid who always wanted to be a Hokie, particularly after teammate Pugh made his choice.

"I followed them ever since I was six years old," Jackson said in his recruiting profile in the March 31, 1997 edition of the Hokie Huddler. "I had planned to go there to get an education anyway. I hadnít even planned on football. As I came up through middle school, I realized I might get a scholarship, so I worked hard to get it. Iíve always wanted to go there."

Said Crouch in the same edition, "Ever since we started talking for the first time about playing college football, all he's ever talked about is Virginia Tech."

Jackson reported in August of 1997, about to burst with excitement. But his second day there, he suffered a serious knee injury and was sent home to rehabilitate. He reported back to Tech in January of 1998, the idea being that with a delayed January enrollment, it would keep alive the option for a redshirt season the following year (the 1998 season) if his knee was slow to recover.

The injury, many people say, is what started Jacksonís slide. Hereís a guy who, in Pughís words, "was always the best baseball player, always the best football player." Now he was hurt, and he couldnít play.

He handled it poorly. He didnít keep up with his rehabilitation. And he started hanging out with the wrong people.

"I kind of got discouraged," Jackson said. "I had never had that happen to me and it was all new. I didnít know what to do. I just wasnít hitting on anything. Iíd already fallen behind other players. It just wasnít going well.

"It was a heartbreaker. I went up there excited and eager. Once that happened, it just takes it all from you."

Said Tech offensive coordinator Rickey Bustle, who recruited Pugh and Jackson from Amherst, "When he came back, he wasnít in very good shape. It was just a struggle for him. I donít think he liked the classroom right off the bat. He just never made a great effort to succeed."

Crouch agrees.

"He did not get back into it and do what he was supposed to do academically or athletically," Crouch said. "I donít think he prepared himself the way he should have. He would come by our practice (at Amherst) after his surgery, heíd jog or go to the weight room. It went on for a couple of months, but then he stopped doing the rehabilitation, stopped lifting. He sort of faded out of the picture. He should have been here every day. I remember telling him he had a chance to get a free education, he had a great opportunity in football. Probably the next week, he was back to doing the same thing he was before.

"Maybe if he hadnít been injured and had been there with the influences of other players and coaches, it would have been different."

But it wasnít. That Jackson never played for the Hokies is a shame, considering everyone who talked about him raved about his ability. His freshman profile listed him as a 5-11, 215-pounder. He was a top-notch runner and determined tackler. He was Group AA defensive player of the year as a junior. Most likely, he would have ended up as an outside linebacker or rover at Tech.

"If heíd have gone to Tech and did what he was supposed to do, heíd have been playing in the NFL right now," Crouch said. "I have no doubt in the world about that. He was that good. He started for us his freshman year, and we went to the state championship two of his four years."

Said Bustle, "I thought Camm was a heck of a player, a very athletic guy who could run. I've thought about him a few times in the past few years. I really think he could have helped this football team. I donít know what he was doing on his own, what kind of desire left him. Somewhere, something changed Ė the desire or whatever that made him as good as he was at the time."

Forgetting the Past

Jackson is back home in Madison Heights now, convinced his troubled days are over.

Heís working at Lynchburg Steel and says heís going to a technical college next year to learn the computer business. He says his personal turnaround started with the birth of his daughter, Alexis Nichole Jackson, 14 months ago, though he was sent to jail after her birth. Heís living with his girlfriend, Tiffany Sales, the mother of his daughter.

"Iím just working and spending time with my family," Jackson said. "Iíve done a lot of growing up. If I had another shot at it, it would be good. A lot of things have changed, and if I knew then what I know now, it would have been a lot different."

He says he tries to talk to kids he comes in contact with back home, warning them to pick their friends wisely -- something he didnít do when he was younger.

"They should learn from my mistakes, do what they have to do, and stay away from people that are doing wrong," Jackson said. "They can hold you back.

"Sure, people had told me that. But I didnít listen. The ones who will keep you from doing the right things, theyíre the ones you need to stay away from."

At Virginia Tech, now seemingly worlds away from Camm Jackson, David Pugh said he still thinks about his old teammate.

"Camm had the opportunity to be a hell of a ballplayer up here," Pugh said. "I wish heíd taken that opportunity and made the best of it.

"A lot of people do get into trouble. Others are ready to take responsibility. They understand whatís at stake. You are on your own, you have to learn to fend for yourself. You have to grow up in a hurry."

Pugh did grow up in a hurry. His next stop may be the NFL.

Jackson didnít.

Crouch said he wonders to this day if he could have done something, seen something, said something that would have helped. A coach gets that way with his players. Out of a hundred kids, if there's one who isn't a success, the other ninety-nine success stories arenít as sweet.

"Theyíre my kids," Crouch said of his players. "When they play for me, we sort of bond. When we have a kid like that, one we KNOW is going to make it big and have a good life, and it goes wrong, yeah, it bothers me. I donít know what to do to help those kids. There probably isnít anything.

"I just wish it had turned out better for him. His life isnít over. He still has a chance to have a good life, and to correct some things heís done. I hope he does that."

 

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