From safety to defensive line: BYU walk-on Fisher Jackson has constructed his career step by step
Third-year sophomore will help No. 21 Cougars try to slow No. 9 Baylor’s impressive offensive attack on Saturday at LaVell Edwards Stadium
A lot of football players make the jump on defense from cornerback to safety, or safety to linebacker, or even linebacker to defensive line.
Ever heard of one who went from safety to defensive end?
Well, meet third-year sophomore Fisher Jackson, who was a safety (and receiver) at Herriman High before walking on at BYU in 2020 via an invitation from BYU safeties and special teams coach Ed Lamb. Lamb was at Herriman recruiting now-BYU left tackle Blake Freeland and noticed Jackson lifting weights with the four-year starter.
“I have loved it the whole time I have been here. I have just been waiting on the opportunity, and I think a lot of guys are like that. There are a lot of guys that will contribute a lot to this team that are walk-ons this year.” — BYU defensive end Fisher Jackson
Jackson is now a 6-foot-5, 245-pound defensive end with a full beard (he has a waiver known as a “beard card”) and a mean streak that coaches say makes him one of the better pass rushers in the defensive line room. He played in nine games last year and has picked up where he left off this year, making a couple tackles in BYU’s 50-21 win over South Florida last Saturday.
“We all took a big step up from last year,” Jackson said of the defense’s performance against the Bulls. “I think everyone feels a bit more comfortable, especially me at the defensive end position, because I had been a little bit newer.”
Jackson and his defensive mates will have their hands full Saturday, as the No. 21 Cougars play host to No. 9 Baylor at LaVell Edwards Stadium (8;15 p.m. MDT, ESPN).
“He has come a long way,” BYU defensive coordinator Ilaisa Tuiaki said of Jackson, a three-sport star (basketball, football, rugby) at Herriman. “He was a safety in high school. We anticipated he would probably be a ’backer. He is between a ’backer and a D end now. Has done a really good job building his body up to be big enough, strong enough, physical enough and has learned the position.”
Tuiaki said Jackson “has shown flashes through the years,” but has recently become more consistent.
“We are happy to have him,” the DC said.
Defensive ends coach Preston Hadley echoed that sentiment, saying Jackson complements fellow outside ends Tyler Batty and Logan Lutui (a Weber State transfer) really well.
“We do a lot with our OEs, where sometimes they will drop in coverage, sometimes they got to hold a double team, between a guard and tackle, sometimes they gotta hold a combination block from a tight end and tackle. And Fisher, he has come in and really adapted well and is becoming a really savvy player at the position.”
Hadley said Jackson brings athleticism and versatility, and has been gradually improving his strength.
“There are certain packages where we have him playing somewhere else,” Hadley said. “He is still young at the position and still has some things to improve on, but I think he has made steady progress from this year to last year.”
Jackson said he didn’t have a lot of scholarship offers out of high school, so when Lamb invited him to check out BYU, he took the opportunity. He wasn’t a big sports fan growing up, let alone a big BYU fan, instead opting to spend his free time in the outdoors boating, wakeboarding and four-wheeling.
“I didn’t go to camps,” he said, referencing the places where most recruits are discovered.
As has been noted in this space many times, being a walk-on in any Division I program is not easy. Jackson said he is still motivated when people tell him he wasn’t good enough to get a “schollie,” even now that he’s in the defensive line rotation.
“But I have never really seen myself as a walk-on here at BYU,” he said. “Really, here walk-ons are treated differently. Like, they are not looked down upon. They are just another player on the team. I feel like I am just as good. It doesn’t matter if I am a scholarship player or a walk-on. It makes me play a little bit harder, but it doesn’t really matter.”
He said it was “a little rough” the first few years, but he has embraced it and believes it will make him a better person in the long run.
“I have loved it the whole time I have been here,” he said. “I have just been waiting on the opportunity, and I think a lot of guys are like that. There are a lot of guys that will contribute a lot to this team that are walk-ons this year.”
Academically, Jackson is a junior and majoring in construction management with a handful of other guys on the team such as defensive Jacob Boren, linebackers Jackson Kaufusi, Josh Wilson and Tavita Gagnier and offensive lineman Clark Barrington.
“We are all in it together so it makes it a lot easier for sure that we can have each other to lean on. There are a lot of (professors) that know we are all gone at the same time so they will help us work around it to have things in the same groups when we are gone,” he said. “It is a (tough) major, but it is pretty nice.”
Building a football career out of almost nothing has been, too.
Cougars on the air
No. 9 Baylor (1-0) at No. 21 BYU (1-0)
Saturday, 8:15 p.m. MDT
LaVell Edwards Stadium
Radio: KSL Newsradio 102.7 FM/1160 AM