INDIANAPOLIS — When Eddie Jackson took his official visit to the University of Alabama five years ago, the four-star defensive back was greeted to campus by a somewhat familiar face in Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The future Packers safety was one of several players on the Crimson Tide football team responsible for showing Jackson around campus. Yet, it was Clinton-Dix who left the greatest impression on the young prospect.
A native of Lauderdale Lakes, Fla., Jackson grew up three hours south of Clinton-Dix’s hometown of Orlando and had followed his career from Florida to Tuscaloosa.
Jackson was weighing offers from LSU, Arkansas and Florida State at the time, but it was his interaction with Clinton-Dix that contributed to his decision to play for Alabama.
“He was one of my chauffeurs when I got recruited,” recalled Jackson at Sunday’s NFL Scouting Combine. “Him being a Florida guy from a city like me, and the way he went to Alabama and adapted to it, and the things he had to face – that really helped me a lot.”
While the two only played one season together, they constantly trade text messages to this day. Throughout Jackson’s college career, his phone frequently buzzed with helpful pointers from Clinton-Dix after games. Clinton-Dix would praise things Jackson did well and mention areas where he needs to improve.
Clinton-Dix’s knowledge of the game impressed Jackson even before the Packers took him in the first round of the 2014 NFL Draft. It’s what made Clinton-Dix a consensus All-American as a junior and a highly-touted safety prospect.
The only thing matching his ability was his work ethic.
“He’s the type of guy who’s not just going to be a big hypocrite,” Jackson said. “He’s going to show you what he means and he’s going to stand by his word. That’s what really stands out about him.”
Jackson’s four seasons at Alabama were met with a lot of adversity. At roughly the same time Clinton-Dix was wowing scouts in the pre-draft process, Jackson tore his anterior cruciate ligament during a spring practice in 2014.
Clinton-Dix was always there for support, and when Alabama coach Nick Saban moved Jackson from cornerback to safety after Landon Collins left for the NFL, he made himself available to answer any questions his former teammate might have.
In midst of his first Pro Bowl season, Clinton-Dix again provided words of encouragement to Jackson after he broke his leg returning a punt against Texas A&M last October.
It was a difficult time for Jackson. He remembers getting choked up the first time Alabama took the field without him two weeks later during a 10-0 win over LSU.
“That’s something that’s always going to take a while, especially when you’re (playing) well and then all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Boom,’” Jackson said. “Everything you’ve worked hard for during the season is taken away. It took a while. At times, I’d be watching the game and get down, tears and stuff like that.”
With the draft approaching, Clinton-Dix put Jackson in contact with current Raiders safety and fellow Orlando native, Karl Joseph, whose draft status was threatened last year by a torn ACL he sustained during his senior year at West Virginia.
Joseph wound up starting nine of the 12 games he played in for Oakland last season, recording 60 tackles, six deflections and an interception to earn a spot on the PFWA All-Rookie team.
“He was just telling me about the things that he went through when he tore his ACL and just keep fighting,” Jackson said. “Ha Ha, of course … and guys like Mark Barron, Landon (Collins), Kenyan Drake, Christian Jones, Trey DePriest - all the older guys were like, ‘Keep your head up. You’re doing good.’”
Jackson followed Clinton-Dix’s lead when it came to leadership. He led Alabama with six interceptions during his junior year and was named a team captain as a senior.
While Jackson isn’t working out for scouts this week in Indianapolis due to his injury, he’s hoping to organize his own workout for scouts – possibly during Miami’s March 29 pro day – if he isn’t able to perform at Alabama’s on Wednesday.
“I feel like everyone forgot about me, so I have a lot to prove,” Jackson said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life and proved everyone wrong. Guys didn’t think I’ll be here, they didn’t think I’d succeed at Alabama, but I continue to prove them wrong. I feel like I’m going to keep doing that.”
As he readies for the NFL, Jackson is motivated by what Clinton-Dix and Collins have accomplished with both former Alabama safeties earning their first trip to the Pro Bowl in 2016.
Clinton-Dix, who played every defensive snap in his third season, also earned his first All-Pro recognition after recording 80 tackles and five interceptions, tied with Collins for the most among NFL safeties.
Watching back in Tuscaloosa, none of what Clinton-Dix did this past year came as a surprise to Jackson. He’d seen that potential since the first day he met him on his campus visit.
“It was (a long) time coming,” Jackson said. “Ha Ha is a great guy and he’s a great athlete. Things like that were going to come. You just go out there, you work hard and do what you have to do, and success is going to come. I’m happy for him.”