IOWA CITY — Josh Jackson is full of self-confidence, but lacking in self-promotion.
In a seemingly bold admission Tuesday by someone who had one career start before this season, the Iowa junior cornerback said winning the Jim Thorpe Award was a preseason goal of his.
That’s a big aspiration, aiming to be named the nation’s top defensive back. But he won’t tell you he is the one who deserves it most among the three finalists. No, he definitely will not.
“I really don’t like to talk about myself,” Jackson said. “I’ll answer questions. But I don’t like to give myself too much praise, if that makes sense.
“I just never really liked being the center of attention, being the class clown or anything like that. I stay in my lane.”
Jackson’s on-field heroics have forced a spotlight upon him. Monday’s announcement that he was a Thorpe finalist was no surprise. It would have been news had he not been one, as it was when the Hawkeyes’ Josey Jewell was excluded from the list of five finalists for the Butkus Award that goes to the nation’s top linebacker.
As great as Desmond King was two years ago as the Hawkeyes’ junior cornerback who won the Thorpe Award, Jackson has been as good and perhaps a wee bit more this season. His 17 pass breakups rank third in the nation, and his seven interceptions puts him atop that chart.
Never has an Iowa defensive back had better games in succession, and against premier opponents. It was all-time stuff what Jackson did in picking off three J.T. Barrett passes in Iowa’s 55-24 blitzing of Ohio State on Nov. 4, followed by his two interception returns for touchdowns for all of the Hawkeyes’ scoring in their otherwise-abysmal 38-14 loss at Wisconsin.
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But breaking up passes has been a season-long thing for Jackson. Purdue almost got burned badly by him once last Saturday before waking up and realizing it was much better off trying to pick on other Hawkeye corners.
The other Thorpe finalists are Texas’ DeShon Elliott (6 INTs, 8.5 tackles for losses, 5 passes broken up, 3 forced fumbles) and Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick (1 interception, 6 passes broken up, 5.5 tackles for losses, and the helpful Alabama affiliation). Fitzpatrick is one of three finalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, given to the nation’s top defensive player.
“That’s cool to be added to the list,” Jackson said. “(Winning the Thorpe) was a goal I had at the beginning of the season and it’s almost true and it’s close to being there.”
“It’s cool, but I just want to make sure I don’t get distracted by it going into Nebraska.”
Nebraska is pass-happy, which means Jackson will have a chance to showcase his skills against a trio of high-quality receivers, Stanley Morgan, J.D. Spielman and De’Mornay Pierson-El, though Spielman is questionable with a shoulder injury for Friday’s game in Lincoln. They have a combined 151 catches.
Huskers quarterback Tanner Lee has 21 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Jackson surely is cognizant of both statistics.
If he gets an interception in Friday’s game in Lincoln to tie the team-record for picks in a season, Jackson will do what he’s done after his other seven.
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“I’m not a big celebrator,” he said. “Yeah, I’m happy inside. But I just like to act like I’ve been there before. I’m supposed to intercept passes. I’m supposed to knock down balls.”
The obvious question for Jackson is if he’ll turn pro after this season. It’s not a subject he’s comfortable addressing.
“I want to make sure I finish the season out strong, then I’ll talk about it and things like that,” he said.
“I don’t really get much NFL talk from my family and friends. I let them know I want to stay focused.”
Jackson is such a good story. Whether he wins the Thorpe or not, he will represent Iowa well in Atlanta when the National College Football Awards Association honors are handed out on Dec. 7.