Every small school prospect dreams of putting his program on the map. Once upon a time, a kid from Greenwood, South Carolina did just that. When the Carolina Panthers selected Josh Norman with the 143rd pick in the 2012 NFL draft, it was a “who?” moment for many. Norman played his college football at Coastal Carolina, a program that had seen just two players drafted into the NFL before him.
Norman was one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for a period of time and certainly brought some notoriety to Coastal Carolina. However, it didn’t lead to much future success for the program in terms of sending talent to the NFL. Since Norman was drafted in 2012, the Chanticleers have seen just three other players drafted, and while running back DeAngelo Henderson was a fan-favorite among the Twitter community, he has yet to live up to his potential.
All of that could change in 2021. There’s another NFL-worthy talent donning the Teal, Bronze and Black down in Conway, South Carolina in the form of defensive end Tarron Jackson.
Listed at 6-foot-2 and 270 pounds, Jackson was a terror coming off the edge in 2019, as he recorded 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Jackson is entering his red-shirt senior season in 2020, and will surely have the attention of NFL scouts around the nation.
As I begin to sit down with NFL draft-eligible talents from big and small schools alike, I was very intrigued by Jackson. Here, I caught up with him to discuss his monstrous 2019 season, which areas of his game he’s currently working on, and his expectations for the upcoming season.
JM: You showed some major improvements in 2019 by recording 10 sacks and 13 tackles for loss. Both of those numbers were easily career highs for you up until this point. What lead to your improvement?
TJ: I feel like I put a lot of work in prior to last season. I made sure that I was in the right place both physically and mentally. I studied the game over the summer, and I feel like I learned a lot.
JM: It paid off. This is your senior season, and expectations are going to be high based on your stellar 2019 campaign. What are you doing to ensure that you meet those expectations?
TJ: I’m doing what I always do. I’m working my butt off and trying to get better every single day. I’m trying to step outside my comfort zone. I can’t get comfortable or complacent even. I can’t be satisfied with what I did last season. I have to take things to the next level now. I’m working on every aspect of my game. My pass rush arsenal still needs work. I feel like there’s a lot of things I could be doing at a higher level. Even with the run game, I’m trying to get more physical and make more plays. I need to take that next step.
My Top 5 Sun Belt DLineman— College Football Rankings ™ (@CFBRanking) June 2, 2020
1) Demetrius Taylor
2) Tarron Jackson
3) Kerry Starks
4) Raymond Johnson
5) Chauncey Manac pic.twitter.com/dsPDphL9Wh
JM: I love that. You made the 2019 All-Sun Belt First Team. That made you just the second first team pick in Coastal Carolina’s Sun Belt history. That must have felt great. You’re helping put the program on the map.
TJ: It felt great. It’s a testament to our coaching staff and the amount of work they put in. They showed me the way. They’re leading me down the path of success. It goes to show you what you can accomplish at a program like CCU.
JM: You mentioned that your pass rush arsenal needs work. What does it currently feature?
TJ: My favorite move is the inside arm-over. That’s what I’ve been trying to work on. If you watch my film, my spin move is another move that I can continue to improve. Those are two of my favorite moves right there. I can use them both as a counter. I’m one of those guys that doesn’t like to have a bunch of moves, but I want to perfect the moves that I do have. It’s about identifying my strongest moves and adding polish to them. I’m working on those inside arm-over and spin moves. I’m trying to incorporate a long-arm as well. With a good get off, I’m good to go.
JM: I love that. Those are three fantastic moves. What can you tell me about the scheme that you guys run on defense?
TJ: We run a 3-4 now. When I first got here, we used to run a 4-3. We ran a 3-4 in 2019 though and I think it helped me out a lot. I mean, we were versatile. We had some 4-3 looks but we were predominantly a 3-4 defense. It’s the best defense I’ve ever played in. It was responsible for my improved play. We changed things up and I think that’s what we were missing from the year before. I think we were a lot tougher to read as a defense in 2019. I should have an opportunity to stand up a lot and rush the passer from the outside this coming season.
JM: That’s exciting. Will you be in the same scheme this year?
TJ: Yes, we will. That’s very exciting to me. I’ve been talking to my coaching staff about it all summer long. This is the first time that I’ll have the same defensive coordinator two years in a row. I’m so excited about that. That’s gonna be big for me. Prior to this year, I’ve had a different defensive coordinator every year. It’s been a different scheme every time.
JM: Wow. That could potentially be huge for you. Who are some of the best offensive tackles that you’ve gone up against?
TJ: I would have to say Robert Hunt from Louisiana Lafayette. He’s definitely the best tackle I’ve ever gone up against. He just got drafted in the second round by the Miami Dolphins.
JM: He’s a good one. I imagine you’ve heard the term “small school” before. As you’re going through the NFL draft process in a few months time, some analyst is going to call you a “small school” guy. What goes through your mind when you hear that?
TJ: It doesn’t bother me at all. It comes with the territory. It’s a blessing. Its given me the time I needed to put the work in. CCU and their coaching staff have given me an opportunity to add polish to my game. When they really analyze my game, they’ll see that I can play at the highest level. I don’t harp on that at all. It comes with the territory.
JM: I read on your biography that you actually started a game at tight end last season. I love that (laughs). How did that happen?
TJ: We had a couple of plays that we put into the offense. I had been begging my coaches to put me in there all season long (laughs). “Please put me in there coach!” (laughs). They threw me a bone and gave me a few plays at tight end. It gave me a chance to be physical on offense. I played a little tight end in high school. I missed it a little bit.
JM: That’s hilarious. Did you get to run any routes?
TJ: I really went out there just to block. It was mostly blocking.
JM: That’s great. The Director of the Senior Bowl, Jim Nagy actually mentioned you as a possibility for the 2021 Senior Bowl. What was your reaction like to that news? What would an invite mean to you?
TJ: I saw that. I was so happy to see that. I’m trying not to get ahead of myself. I still have a lot of work to put in. I definitely would cherish that opportunity and make the most of it. I just have to keep working. An invite to the Senior Bowl would definitely be a great opportunity for me to go down there and prove myself at the highest level.
Sun Belt tied record with 7 NFL draft picks in 2020 and Coastal Carolina DL Tarron Jackson is a good bet for 2021. Undersized at 6020 and 273 lbs but has long arms and interior pass rush upside (10 sacks). Easy to like when he’s chasing & selling out .#TheDraftStartsInMOBILE pic.twitter.com/lhHlnqIxaD— Jim Nagy (@JimNagy_SB) June 10, 2020
JM: We hope to see you there. I’ve really appreciated your time today, Tarron. In closing, what can CCU fans expect from you this coming season?
TJ: They can expect the best year yet, and that goes for the entire program, not just myself. We’re going to be the type of football team that goes out there and wins championships.