Inside TSL: Tracking Camm Jackson
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #11

My fascination with Camm Jackson dates back to the very earliest days of Hokie Central, so far back that Hokie Central was still called "Will's Hokie Sports Home Page" when I first wrote about Camm.

I started Hokie Central in March of 1996, and within three months, two players from Amherst High School had verbally committed to Tech: lineman David Pugh (in April '96) and linebacker/running back Camm Jackson. The commitments stand out in my mind, because they were the first two commitments that I ever reported on the web site. Both commitments came at the end of Pugh and Jackson's junior years.

Here's what I wrote about Jackson's commitment in June of 1996:

Linebacker Camm Jackson of AA champion Amherst has followed in the footsteps of teammate David Pugh and has committed verbally to Tech. Jackson is a multi-talented football player who has distinguished himself by being named to the All-State Group AA Defensive Team the last two years, and he was Defensive Player of the Year in 1995. Not only that, but he rushed for 1500 yards last year. Jackson's commitment was no surprise, as he says that he's "always wanted to be a Hokie." -- Hokie Central News and Notes, June 17, 1996.

The 1996 football season came and went, and as signing day in February of 1997 approached, I wrote the following about Camm in another News and Notes article:

My favorite recruit this year? That's easy - it's Camm Jackson, the linebacker/running back from Amherst who was one of Tech's first verbals this year. I like Camm not because of his playing ability or what he might do at Tech, but because of something he said when he committed. He said that he's "always wanted to be a Hokie." That's my kind of kid. I can't wait to see him play. -- Hokie Central News and Notes, January 23rd, 1997.

In the March 31, 1997 edition of the Hokie Huddler, Jackson's recruiting profile appeared. His picture showed a handsome young man with a magnetic smile, and the quotes in the "Why he chose Tech" section were enough to make any Hokie swoon:

"I followed them (Tech) ever since I was six years old," Jackson said. "I had planned to go there to get an education anyway. I hadn't 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. I've always wanted to go there."

His high school coach, Mickey Crouch, agreed. "Ever since we talked for the first time about playing college football, all he's ever talked about is Virginia Tech." -- The Hokie Huddler, March 31, 1997

I continued to reference Camm Jackson for several months, in articles I wrote about Tyrone Robertson and Yubrenal Isabelle. Robertson, from GW-Danville, signed a letter of intent the same year that Jackson did, but later intentionally failed to graduate from high school in order to get out of his letter of intent. Isabelle, from Bluefield, West Virginia, reportedly verbally committed to Tech, but then reneged and committed to UVa, where he later signed and had a good career at linebacker.

I held Camm Jackson up as an example of the kind of lifelong Hokie I wanted entering the program, as opposed to uncommitted, wishy-washy kids like Robertson and Isabelle.

Then Jackson showed up for freshman drills in the fall of 1997 and tore up his knee. He had to return home to rehab. Hokie football went on without him, and he disappeared from the public eye, but I never quite completely forgot him, and I wondered when he was coming back.

The good news was that Camm was going to go back to Virginia Tech in January of 1998. Just before the 1997 Gator Bowl, I received the following email from a Hokie Central reader whose wife was Camm's high school guidance counselor:

At 11:46 AM 12/26/97 EST:

Will,

Camm will be heading to VT on 1-5-98. My wife talked to him last week. He's planning on attending the Gator bowl. We are staying at the Omni and Camm is supposed to come by and see us. If you are there maybe you can meet him.

His rehab has gone good. Although he had to return to C-ville last week to make sure he had not contracted Hepititus B from one of the surgical team. Dr McCue told him he may be a step slower.

But once again, as far as I knew, Camm Jackson never made it back to Virginia Tech, and it became apparent that his window of opportunity was closing. As the spring of 1998 continued into the summer and the fall of 1998, there was still no sign of Camm Jackson.

The 1998 recruiting class (featuring Michael Vick, Jake Houseright, and Lee Suggs) arrived in the fall, and amidst all the hoopla, Camm Jackson of the 1997 recruiting class was forgotten. It appeared he would never play football for Virginia Tech.

The Hokies signed another recruiting class in February of 1999, this one including stars Nathaniel Adibi, Keith Willis, and Andrae Harrison. I attended the Recruiting Roundup at Greg Roberts Sports Club that year, as I do every year, to see some film and get the lowdown from the coaches on the new class.

Imagine my surprise when the subject of Camm Jackson, his commitment now nearly three years old and his LOI signing now two years in the past, came up. I don't remember exactly what was said, but I wrote this in a column recapping the roundup:

Camm Jackson, a 1997 recruit who injured his knee early in freshman drills and eventually dropped out of school, "will come back." I believe that the coaches said he is currently in school, but donít quote me on that.

That was February of 1999. In April of 1999, I received a note that saddened me and convinced me that Camm Jackson was through as a Hokie football prospect:

To: will@hokiecentral.com
Subject: Camm Jackson
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 1999 11:58:56 PDT

Will,

I'm a longtime reader of Hokie Central and a diehard Hokie fan. Everything has been going so well recently with our program....Unfortunately, I was smacked in the mouth with some extremely disturbing news today. Let me explain to you how I came about this information. I work both in Lynchburg General Hospital and the Amherst County Sheriff's Department. I was in my office today at the Sheriff's department and overheard an arrestee being processed. The officers called this kid by name....Camm Jackson.

My ears and curiosity immediately perked up. He is being charged with two counts of felony forgery and uttering. I tried to contact the Commonwealth Attorney (Amherst is his jurisdiction) but he is out of town until Monday. I just found out that these are actually Blacksburg charges, so this will probably make the press up there......man o man.

I waited, but I never heard Camm Jackson's name mentioned in the press as being brought up on charges. The implication is clear: once a promising recruit, he had fallen so far off the radar screen of Hokie football that when the reporters who daily comb the court files saw his name come up, they didn't even recognize it.

Almost a year later, I received an email from the Commonwealth Attorney who eventually tried Jackson, and it wasn't even on the same charges:

At 11:39 PM 3/14/00 -0500:

Will: I now have the answers as to why we won't see Camm Jackson again in a Hokie uniform -- I tried him today (in Montgomery Co. Circuit Court), and he was convicted of the felony charge of unlawful wounding.

Only the local weekly took much interest in the case, and I hope that state papers don't pick up another story of a former Hokie being convicted. I feel sorry for his dad; he's trying to get the kid to turn himself around. I don't know if he'll make it or not, but he sure has tossed his opportunities aside for the time being.

(The conviction for unlawful wounding did not show up in the research that Neal Williams did for his article on Jackson that appears elsewhere in this issue, although Williams did note that one of the documents he uncovered in his research was sealed. He did not, of course, go through the procedures to get it opened.)

He sure has tossed his opportunities aside.

My mind goes to that statement in that last email, and I think about how easy it is to type those words. It contains the same number of words as, say, the phrase, "I went to town and bought bread." But one of those two phrases is trivial, and the other is not; it tells of the chances of a lifetime wasted.

"He sure has tossed his opportunities aside," as accurate as it is, doesn't begin to tell the whole story of Camm Jackson, and the choices he made, and the path he took. Had he not injured himself, and had he stayed in school, he would be a redshirt senior, like his high school teammate, David Pugh. And maybe, like Pugh, he would be a star, a potential All-American with the good possibility of an NFL career in front of him. We'll never know.

Why has Camm Jackson stayed in my mind for so many years? Why do I feel haunted when I look at the picture of the handsome kid with the smiling face in that March 31, 1997 edition of the Hokie Huddler? Why should it matter?

With all the great success stories in Hokie football in the last five years, why does the story of Camm Jackson captivate me?

Perhaps it's because I feel like I tried to warn him.

I have a copy of a letter that I sent to Camm Jackson in March of 1997, barely a month after he had signed his letter of intent to attend Virginia Tech on a football scholarship. As many longtime Hokie fans can never forget, in 1995 and 1996, the Virginia Tech football team suffered a rash of embarrassing off-the-field incidents and player arrests, a situation that got so out of control that the university eventually drafted a Comprehensive Action Plan (CAP) designed to lay down rules for athlete behavior and punishment.

For some reason, the debacle of 1995/96 moved me to write a letter to Camm Jackson and to tell him how important his role as an ambassador of Virginia Tech football was, and to never forget that he was representing the school wherever he went, and to conduct himself accordingly.

Given how Camm's life turned out, it's almost eerie to read the letter now. Here it is, dated March, 1997:

Dear Camm:

Greetings from Hokie Central! My name is Will Stewart, and I run Virginia Techís premier unofficial sports Internet web site, "Hokie Central." As you finish your senior year at Amherst and prepare for Virginia Tech, I wanted to drop you a line and welcome you to the Virginia Tech sports family.

Every year, I have one or two favorites among the incoming players, and this year, you and teammate David Pugh are my two favorite Hokie football recruits. The reason is simple - I started Hokie Central in March of 1996, and yours and Davidís commitments were the first two commitments I reported on the web site. As more and more players committed, they all started to kind of run together, but Iíll always remember the two of you as being the first, because you both sound like true Hokies through and through.

I sincerely hope that you will enjoy your time at Virginia Tech as much as I did (I graduated in 1987). College will be an amazing experience for you, and I urge you to live every moment to its fullest, because when itís over, youíll be surprised at how quickly it went by. Iím sure that will be especially true for you, because youíll be busy with your football career.

But in addition to wishing you luck, I wanted to talk about some things that I hope will stay with you during your four-to-five years at Tech. I didnít play college football (itís tough, when youíre 5-8, 150 pounds, and slow), so I donít know what itís like, but I wanted to give you a fanís perspective that I hope youíll remember and take with you as you go.

When you enter Virginia Tech this fall, and you become a Virginia Tech football player, there is a lot of responsibility that comes with that honor. You will serve as a representative and ambassador of the university everywhere you go, and people will watch you to see how you act and how you carry yourself. I want you to always remember that your actions reflect not just on yourself, but also upon the thousands of Tech fans and graduates who have come before you.

Itís a tremendous responsibility for a young man who is only 18 years old to carry, and I wonder if many of the student-athletes at Tech are even aware of it. As you know, weíve had quite a bit of trouble off the field in the past year, and Hokie fans will be watching the next incoming class - your class - very closely in the hopes that we wonít ever experience again what we went through this past year. We are looking for you to be the type of person that makes us proud both on and off the field.

As your football career at Tech progresses, it will seem that people only care about what you do on the field, but Iím sure that I speak for Hokie fans everywhere when I say that what you do on the field is not nearly as important as what you do OFF the field. We are more concerned that you become a good student and a good citizen, someone who reflects well on Virginia Tech. If your entire career comes and goes and you never play in a single game, that will be all right, as long as you graduate from Tech and are successful in your life after football ... and as long as you're happy and you're satisfied with the effort you put forth at Tech.

Always remember that youíre different from other students, and that you have responsibilities that they've never dreamed of. Carry yourself with pride and dignity, and when you look back on your days at Tech, you wonít have a single regret.

Now, back to football - you will find very quickly after arriving at Tech that the cornerstone of Tech football is hard work, and that those who work hard will be successful. Listen to the coaches, because they know what theyíre doing. Pay attention to them, and put your maximum effort into it, and before you know it, youíll be playing in front of 50,000 fans who are cheering your every move.

Iím looking forward to seeing you in a Tech football uniform, and I wish you luck in your Tech career. Hopefully, weíll get to meet face to face someday.

Always remember that college is supposed to be fun - work hard and play hard, and youíll discover that the fun takes care of itself. Sorry this letter is so long, but as fans of Hokie Central know, I canít say anything in less than two pages! Good luck at Virginia Tech!

Sincerely,
Will Stewart
Hokie Central

Is the letter pretentious? Sure, I think so. Would I write a letter like that these days? Not on your life. But I was much more of a "fan" back then, and I was excited about Jackson.

I sent the letter to Camm via his guidance counselor at Amherst, and a few weeks later, I was told that he had received it, and that among other things, "His mother really liked it."

I'll bet she did. It's a shame for Camm, his family, and the thousands of Hokie fans who were looking forward to seeing him play, that he did not follow the words of advice that it contained.

Camm Jackson has a lifetime to think about the choices he has made, and what it has cost him. But in the wake of all that has happened, Hokie football has moved on without him. He is a forgotten man. We can only hope that life gets better for him, and that he is able to move on and put his past behind him.

See you next month.

 

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