LOS ANGELES -- Under the 90-degree heat of a Southern California afternoon last week, USC receivers cycled through routes against man coverage. Usually that would mean at least some one-on-one time against phenom Adoree' Jackson, but on this day the receivers were in luck -- Jackson was wearing a cardinal jersey, running with the offense.
That reprieve has come every other practice throughout the spring as Jackson readies for a more prominent offensive role next season. Like he was as a true freshman, Jackson figures to be primarily a corner -- where he has first-round talent -- but the plan is to up his workload on the other side to take advantage of what he can do with the ball in his hands.
"Whether it's defense, offense -- we fight over him every day," USC offensive coordinator Clay Helton said. "I've been fortunate enough to be around here and in other years it's, 'There's Robert Woods, there's Marqise Lee, there's Nelson Agholor.' Who is the next superstar? This guy is. He's an ultra-special talent and I don't care if it's wideout, running back, corner. He's just really special."
Before Jackson arrived on campus last summer, it wasn't obvious where he would play, but coach Steve Sarkisian said Jackson's preference was corner -- a position of need -- so that's where his career began. And after being named the Pac-12's Defensive Freshman of the Year and honored by just about every freshman All-America team, it's clear the choice was justified. His presence alone had a tendency to affect play calling and decision-making. A rare quality for any player, even more so for a player as young as Jackson.
"He's one of those guys in practice where [quarterback Cody Kessler] sees, 'OK, Adoree' is over there, I better work the other side,'" Helton said.
With his responsibilities at corner taking priority last season, Jackson wasn't allotted much time to learn the nuances of the USC offense. So despite possessing all the natural ability, his opportunities on offense were limited during the regular season in which he finished with seven catches for 65 yards and two touchdown receptions. However, with a full complement of practices leading up to the National University Holiday Bowl against Nebraska, the staff was able to further integrate Jackson as a receiver.
The results were intriguing. In addition to his 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown -- capped with a salute to Reggie Bush in the form of a flip into the end zone -- Jackson caught three passes for 73 yards, including a 71-yard touchdown that demonstrated why he's expected to be one of the most exciting players in college football for at least the next two years.
"Every time he touches the ball, you hold your breath because he can take it 80 [yards]," Helton said. "He's such an offensive weapon that I'm glad we're allowed to borrow him at times."
His exploits aren't limited to football, either. In fact, if Jackson had his way, he wouldn't be practicing with the football team at all this spring. He said he would rather devote the season to track and field, where he participates in the long jump and sprints, but has come to a compromise.
"I did talk to [the coaches] about doing track in the spring and they said I could,” Jackson said. "But [coach Sarkisian] said he wanted me out there to learn everything that we're doing new. So I listened to him and am doing the new stuff. My preference would be to go out here and run track and compete and try to be an All-American in another sport."
In the Trojan Invitational on March 21, Jackson anchored the 4x100-meter relay team to a first-place finish with an NCAA-leading time of 39.74, won the long jump (24 feet, 4.25 inches) and helped the 4x400-meter relay team to a second-place finish. He will be part of the USC contingent at the Florida Relays in Gainesville later this week.
"I don't know if [track] helps physically for football, but mentally to go out there and focus and compete is a good thing," USC defensive backs coach Keith Heyward said. "He's going against really, really good athletes that don't play football and just do that. It's a testament to the type of athlete he is and his abilities. Some people just have it.
"That's the kind of guy we like. We want somebody that wants to be great. You have to have that competitive edge and that winning attitude to be relentless toward your goals."
Because of the NCAA's restrictions on the amount of hours an athlete is allowed to practice each week, Jackson's time with the track team is limited. He said he picks a day -- usually Monday, Wednesday or Friday -- based on which one allows him to maximize his time with the track team the best. It may seem overwhelming, but for Jackson it's all he knows.