Considering where they’d been and what they are still going through, the occasion may have felt just like heaven.

Or at least something like it.

In early November, Christopher Jackson took his two younger brothers, Romelo and Prentice, on an official recruiting visit to BYU. While there, the trio took part in the typical activities of touring the campus, eating lots of food and having just about anything and everything served to them in an experience that was a 180-degree turn from their life at home.

Indeed, just having their own beds to sleep in and a roof over their heads during the visit may have been enough, all things considered.

“I loved it. Every moment of it. But I mostly loved my brothers being able to experience all of it with me,” Jackson said. “They’ve had to go through things no kids should have to go through, so it was all a huge blessing.”

From a sheltered life to the streets

It all unraveled suddenly, and Jackson still struggles with his emotions while telling how his life went from relative stability to extreme adversity.

Just about everything leading up to his high school years was somewhat normal, growing up in relatively humble conditions in Pomona, California. Jackson speaks of a childhood playing sports while having ample food on the table and a roof over his head.

His mother, Nicole Cook, took care of just about all of it, working earnestly to keep her kids away from the street life experienced by too many children in the area in which they lived, as described by Jackson.

But that all changed dramatically leading up his senior year of high school.

“There were things going on I just wasn’t aware of,” Jackson recalled. “You just go through thinking everything is fine and not aware, at all, of how your parents are struggling to deal with certain things.”

Leading to the struggles was Jackson’s mother losing her job and not being able to provide for the family. While always a constant in her son’s lives, occasional long periods of absence led to some curiosity, then worries and then outright despair for Jackson.

“She turned to drugs,” Jackson said. “She just had a hard time handling all the depression and just being so ashamed of not being able to provide like she needed to. My mom is a great lady, and she’d always been there for me, but yeah, it was a tough time for her and for all of us.”

Before Jackson could process everything that was going on, he found himself and his siblings without a home. At first, his grandmother was able to take the family in, before things didn’t work out and the family was then separated. Jackson went to live with his godparent while not certain exactly how and where his mother and his siblings were surviving.

“It was really tough. Really tough,” Jackson said. “My mom — I didn’t even recognize her and had no idea if she was home, living in the streets — not to mention my brothers and sister. My dad, who is also a great person, would help out where he could, but yeah, the lives we knew just sort of fell apart all of a sudden.”

Taking it out on the field

Jackson experienced a lot of emotions throughout the adversity, although one emotion rose to the top when playing football: anger.

“I just took it out on the field, and really, using all that anger really pushed me and I believe made me work harder than I ever had before,” Jackson said. “But it was sad, too. I remember playing great games and after, I’d look up to the stands and see no one there supporting me. That just made me more angry, I think.”

Jackson’s play did warrant some attention, however, with programs like USC and UCLA, among others, taking notice of the 5-foot-10 speedster, although not ultimately coming through with scholarship offers. Montana State did offer him a scholarship, although poor SAT scores prevented Jackson from making the jump to college football.

Instead, Jackson walked on at Mount San Antonio junior college, working to get his academics in order before playing — an option defined as “grey-shirting,” where a player works out with the team but doesn’t play. Doing so involved working a full-time job while taking classes and not having a stable place to rest his head.

“Some teammates let me live with them, but man, we were packed in there,” Jackson said. “We’d have guys sleeping all over the floor, sharing beds. A lot of us had to do it just to get by, but you do what you have to.”

Jackson recalls days of taking three-hour bus rides just to get to and from work and school and little time for anything other than working his way through by whatever means necessary. While ready support wasn’t available from family due to adverse circumstances, he did find particular and much-needed support elsewhere.

“It’s all because of God and my belief in him,” Jackson said. “Whenever things are tough and I need to motivate myself, I look to God and he brings me through. I wake up giving thanks to him and I know through my faith that he blesses me and will continue to bless me.”

Serving notice

In 2017, Jackson first played leading up to a 2018 season where he hauled in 50 receptions for 695 yards and four touchdowns. Playing at both the outside and slot positions, he was able to show off his superior speed and versatility, which programs like BYU came to notice.

Cougar cornerbacks coach Jernaro Gilford first noticed Jackson’s potential, referring him to receivers coach Fesi Sitake. Following an official workout, Sitake was impressed enough to recommend an official visit to the BYU campus, which eventually turned into a scholarship offer.

“It all happened real fast,” Jackson said. “I had other offers, from Louisiana-Lafayette and some other schools showing interest, but BYU just blew me away. I really didn’t know anything about the school, but learned a lot on my official visit and then after.”

Making the visit to BYU was about much more than just taking a look for himself, however. Jackson took it as a prime opportunity to bring along his two little brothers — both of whom were having to make do under adverse circumstances with their mother having worked her way through rehab, but still struggling to get completely back on her feet.

“It’s the most important thing to me. It’s all about family,” he said. “My motivation is for my family — for my brothers. To show them how things can be done if you work hard and just believe. I want them to see the opportunities they have if they just keep straight.”

Both of Jackson’s brothers possess a lot of athletic potential themselves. Jackson describes 15-year-old Prentice as a 6-1 athlete who is looking to excel at basketball, and 13-year-old Romelo as a clone of himself athletically.

“They both had their eyes opened on the trip, I think, and they had the time of their lives, for sure,” Jackson said. “I wouldn’t have had it any other way and it was a true blessing having them experience all that because I know very well what they’ve been through and what they’re going through.”

Eyes on the prize

Jackson aims on arriving at BYU just prior to winter semester and then giving everything he has to earning a spot at the receiver position. With the graduation of notable seniors Aleva Hifo, Talon Shumway and Micah Simon, there are a lot of spots to be filled, with the Mount San Antonio product excited for the opportunity.

“All I know is how to work the best I can and the hardest I can,” he said. “That’s what has gotten me to this point and is what will carry me throughout my life to achieve my goals, along with my belief in God. I aim to work harder than ever at BYU. It’s an opportunity I won’t pass up and won’t give anything but my all for.”

Jackson has his eyes set on an NFL career, believing he has the talent to advance to that level, while also being mindful of how beneficial a BYU education will be for the rest of his life.

“I can’t tell you how excited I am to get there and to get going,” he said. “Like I said, this is an opportunity I’ve never had before. It’s an opportunity for much more than me, though. It’s for my mom, my dad and my family and all those who have believed in me and helped me reach this point.”