Imagine leaving home. Imagine feeling out of place and worrying about every little detail. Imagine moving from a place where everything was comfortable, natural and easy to a place that was foreign, distant and strange because it was, well, the right thing to do.
Welcome to Michigan's Marlin Jackson's 2003 season. After earning All-America honors as a sophomore at cornerback, Jackson was asked to move to safety last season to help the Wolverines. He did it without question, but that doesn't mean he always liked it.
"It was very frustrating," Jackson said. " Not being able to pick up things the way you want to or not being able to do everything you're used to ... it's very frustrating."
But this season, Jackson is back home at cornerback. He's already drawing comparisons to Wolverine Heisman winner Charles Woodson and was named the Big Ten preseason defensive player of the year.
"He's the most exciting shutdown corner in college football. He's a ballplayer," said Michigan WR Braylon Edwards, whose battles with Jackson during practice are highlight-reel quality. "He's like Woodson, he just has a special quality that you know when he's on the field, that side of the field is covered. He's proven that he's a dominating cornerback."
Now, it's not like Jackson was a scrub at safety. He was still fifth on the team in tackles with 50 despite missing four games. But it was a trying season for Jackson. He fought through various knee, shoulder, quad and hand injuries, but still missed three games. He was suspended for one game for an offseason brush with the law.
He dealt with learning a new position on the fly. Instead of being one-on-one with a receiver, he had to learn a different way of covering receivers. He had to bark orders to other DBs. And just when Jackson felt like he was getting a handle on this safety thing, something would trip him up.
"I thought I'd pick everything up easy, but then you get back there and it's so much different," Jackson said. "I never said anything. I just kept all the frustration inside."
Until the Rose Bowl. After watching Matt Leinart throw for four TDs, Jackson lost it. He stormed off the Rose Bowl field and broke down.
"I wanted to cover Keary Colbert. I wanted to cover Mike Williams," Jackson said. "I wanted to stop them."
He went home and considered his options. He thought about leaving the Wolverines for the NFL, where he likely would have been a late first-round or early second-round pick. But then coach Lloyd had a meeting with Jackson and asked him to move back to corner.
Jackson will likely get the opposition's best receiver, but he's ready for the challenge. He said he's in great shape and is coming off the best spring of his career.
"It made the decision to come back easy," Jackson said. "I have more confidence at corner. I can make the plays. I am a cornerback."