Eddie Jackson keeps the Tide in line

Did Eddie Jackson make a smart move? (1:35)

Desmond Howard thinks Eddie Jackson's decision to forgo the NFL draft for one more year to stay with the Crimson Tide will increase his future draft stock. (1:35)

This is the Alabama way.

Up two touchdowns, the defense holds on third-and-10 to force a punt just before halftime. Everything is coming easily for the Crimson Tide to start the season. They're cruising to a dominant win over No. 20 USC, but then a fight breaks out. It's among teammates. And it's on Alabama's sideline.

Linebacker Reuben Foster and reserve defensive back Deionte Thompson hold back an emotional Ronnie Harrison. The second-year safety is furious, shouting and pointing at someone. It turns out that he's mad at fellow safety Eddie Jackson. Something Jackson said set him off, and not even coach Nick Saban stepping in is enough to calm him down.

Apparently, Jackson wasn't happy with the way Harrison performed on third down and let him know it. Yeah, Harrison was responsible for making the stop, which was great. But then he and a USC wideout squared one another up, got face mask to face mask and exchanged words. Jackson stepped in as Harrison left the field and told him to shut it.

Jackson knew that Saban doesn't tolerate talking to the opposing team's players. In fact, Saban wishes there were an NCAA rule against it.

It was simply the senior from South Florida's turn to step up.

It was his turn to become the enforcer of the Alabama way.

"The lesson to be learned," Saban said, "is that when you have a teammate who is caring about you and trying to help you, the response should be 'thank you' not 'screw you.' "

If Alabama continues its wire-to-wire run atop the polls and reaches the College Football Playoff, Jackson should get a big thank-you from Harrison, Saban and everyone associated with the program. He was already one of the best safeties in the country before the Tide traveled to Arlington, Texas, to face USC. But in that moment just before halftime, his worth grew.

It didn't matter that the game was well in hand. No one would have blamed Jackson if he had let the whole thing go. But if complacency was the No. 1 enemy of the Crimson Tide entering the season, he showed that he was willing to become the face of the resistance.

After all, he knows exactly how easy it is to lose focus. Six years earlier, he had to climb out of a hole of his own digging to get his life back on track.

Jackson was a rudderless freshman in Pompano Beach, Florida, working on flunking out of Northeast High.

He was skipping classes. He was running with the wrong crowd. Coaches weren't paying attention, and his GPA slipped below 1.0.

His teammate Stacy Coley was growing into a star at receiver. His older half-brother, Demar Dorsey, was on his way to play defensive back at Michigan. And Jackson couldn't seem to get out of his own way.

He wanted what they had. He just didn't know how to get there.

After enough times catching him at home when he should have been in class, his father stepped in.

"I saw where it was leading," Eddie Jackson Sr. said. "He wasn't going anywhere. So I felt like a fresh start would have been better for him."

Eddie Sr. knows a thing or two about starting over. He played football in high school, as well, but he got himself kicked out of school. He was too hard-headed, too rebellious. He was too busy in the streets, he said.

Before long, he landed in Calhoun Correctional Institution to serve time for two counts of armed robbery. He went in jail at 19. He came out at 24.

"Four years, 11 months," he said.

Less than a year after he got out, his fiancée, Angela, left work at noon and the two got married. At 7 that same night, Eddie Jr. was born.

"Happiest day of my life, man," Eddie Sr. said.

Angela and Eddie Sr. have been married ever since. He is a heavy equipment operator, doing the backbreaking work of land developers in the South Florida heat.

Like his time in jail, it all serves a purpose. He doesn't need to beat his son over the head with the lessons of his past. The boy he calls Bo Jack can see for himself.

"You lead by example," Eddie Sr. said. "Your kids see you doing things like that, it will catch on."

It took time for Eddie to get it. But when his father told him that he had to transfer high schools and that he wouldn't play a down of football until his grades were up, he didn't resist for long.

The words of his grandfather rattled around in his head: Never settle for wooden nickels.

"That means don't settle for anything," Eddie Sr. explained. "If you know what you want, go after what you want."

Wayne Blair laid out the plan: no football games, no practice, no 7-on-7. Nothing.

The Boyd Anderson High coach had no idea whether Jackson could play a lick of football, but he knew he wouldn't tackle anyone until he got his academics in order. The only thing Jackson was allowed to do was lift weights and run his junior year.

Jackson was even lankier back then than his is now, a string bean with a beautiful natural gait that Blair liked. He looked as if he could play, but there was no telling.

Outwardly, Jackson was all smiles, but Blair could sense his determination. Jackson told him how he wanted to be on the same track as Coley, who was on his way to playing receiver at Miami, and the two discussed what had gone wrong with his half-brother Dorsey, who had attended Boyd Anderson and was seeing his chance to play at Michigan slip away.

"Demar was a living example," Blair said.

In the span of two semesters, Jackson lifted his GPA from sub-1.0 to above 2.3. That spring, he was finally allowed to play.

Blair figured that since he was tall and rangy and lacked experience, free safety was a natural place to start. Then, during the spring game, Boyd Anderson played University School and Jackson picked off current Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White twice.

"That's when the folklore literally began," Blair said. "He housed one of the [interceptions]. He took it all the way back."

Jackson went from free safety to nickel, nickel to corner and corner to receiver in the span of one training camp, Blair said. He started the first game at receiver and led the area in receiving yards, in addition to playing everywhere on defense and returning kicks and punts.

He started with one offer from Florida Atlantic that he picked up during a camp before his senior year. Before long, he had Florida State calling. Miami, LSU, Alabama and all the top teams were on him before long.

Jackson wanted to be a receiver and loved the idea of staying in-state at Miami or Florida State. LSU was intriguing, as well.

Almost everyone was telling him he'd play both ways. The Tigers sold him on becoming the next Patrick Peterson, the Seminoles the next Deion Sanders.

Meanwhile, all Alabama was interested in was defense.

"Saban came straight out and said, 'I'm going to play you in the defensive backfield,' " Blair said.

Jackson, his father and Blair talked it over. He ended up deciding that he wasn't interested in being another speedy 6-foot receiver. He'd sign at Alabama and hope to play nickel or dime as a freshman.

Little did they know he'd start at corner for two seasons before making the transition back to his original position of safety.

"I've been an underdog my whole life. People doubt. Just prove them wrong," Jackson said. "That's one thing I can say I like to do."

Jackson's strong has always been just below the surface.

Blair would sit him during games just to bring it out. Against rival Monarch High, Jackson rode the bench for two quarters before blowing the game wide open at receiver. Blair laughed while recalling how Jackson returned a punt for a big chunk of yards that game and turned back to look at him as if saying, "Coach, you know better than to sit me like that." The whole team lit up after that.

Getting into it with Ronnie Harrison against USC was both expected and satisfying for Blair to see.

No one had to push Jackson to take charge in Alabama's season opener in September, he just did it on his own, the same way he stepped into a leadership role at Boyd Anderson, schooling the young receivers there.

"He's a fiery guy," Blair said. "He's going to love his teammates to the max, but at the same time a little tough love isn't going to hurt you."

On Jackson's arm is a tattoo that reads: Tough times don't last, tough people do. "How tough you are, you can overcome anything," he said.

He promised his mother he'd get his degree, which is why he came back for his senior year at Alabama rather than turning pro. His motivation now, he said, is to "show the young guys what it takes."

Even Harrison said that, when he and Jackson got into it, it was only him "trying to be a leader."

"He taught me a lot," Harrison said. "He's just always in my head, in my ear, and he tells me that I push him every day in practice. We just kind of lean on each other and really try to keep each other up."

There were no hurt feelings, no need for a thank-you after that.

Everyone knows the deal: Get out of line and Jackson will straighten you out. It doesn't matter what the score is.

That's just the Alabama way.