Carriker Chronicles: Damian Jackson on playing for the Huskers, his time as a Navy SEAL and more
All year round, former Husker and NFL veteran Adam Carriker is taking the pulse of Husker Nation. In the “Carriker Chronicles” video series, he breaks down the latest NU news, upcoming opponents, player updates and recruiting information, and he offers his insight into the X’s and O’s and more.
In Monday’s episode, Carriker talks to former Navy SEAL Damian Jackson about playing for the Huskers, his time in the Navy, learning the playbook and much more.
Here’s a transcript from today’s show:
Adam Carriker: Welcome to the Carriker Chronicles, the people’s show! Where we check the pulse of Husker Nation brought to you by Nebraska Spine Hospital. Now I’m a little extra excited for today’s guest to join us 27-year-old former Navy SEAL who’s had deployments in Yemen and southeast Asia. He’s decided to something he’s never done before and that’s play football! That’s what brought him to Lincoln, Nebraska. Damian Jackson, my friend. how ya doing?
Damian Jackson: Good, how are you?
AC: Glorious. So I gotta ask. I’m gonna try to do this in chronological order. So back in 2010, what inspired you to join the Navy?
DJ: So for me it was really kinda a money issue getting into college. Knowing that the military would pay for a lot of my schooling when I got done with that, that was a big factor for me going into the military. I wanted to join so once I was ready to get out, they would pay for my school.
AC: Now one of the things that’s always fascinated me was boot camp. When I was with the Rams in St. Louis one of my neighbors had a son, and I’ll be honest, he was a slacker in high school. He didn’t know what he wanted to do so they made him join the Army. And when he came back, he talked about boot camp. His flight left at midnight, he got there at 3 a.m and he immediately had to do all this stuff and he didn’t get to go to bed and he didn’t get breakfast and he went right into boot camp. It was 36 hours before he ever ate, it was 48 hours before he got any sleep and he only got like five hours then. So for you, what was your experience?
DJ: It was kinda similar thing. Once you get there you have a lot of checking in to do, get medical records and stuff, fly everybody in. You’re doing a lot of sitting in line. It does take some time. But once all that gets going, it’s not that rough. Boot camp is not something to look at like “Oh wow, that was a kick in the butt.” For me, they’re trying to teach you the basics of following orders and stuff. It’s really not that bad. I know some guys have different experiences with the different branches and stuff, but there really wasn’t a whole lot of eating. You gotta do a lot of standing in line and it’s pretty boring. After that you get going with your platoon. You’re doing that for about two months. For me it really wasn’t that bad.
AC: You had your first fall camp last year. How does a football camp compare to boot camp?
DJ: I don’t think you can really compare the two. They’re two completely different things. With boot camp it’s really just like trying to follow orders in minuscule things like folding your laundry or really just doing something out of the ordinary. Just to really get you to understand orders. Fall camp was just a lot harder than boot camp. I went through BUDS camp and that was a whole ’nother thing, but overall fall (football) camp was pretty rigorous.
AC: Now tell me a little about BUDS. What is that?
DJ: BUDS stands for basic underwater demolition school. It’s the training school for all Navy SEALs. That’s the requirement. First you have to spend two months in Virginia just getting ready for BUDS school, then you’re off to San Diego for the six-month program. You have three phases in that. Two months in each phase. The first phase — in my class you probably start out with like 200-some-odd people and we graduated with like 36 in the class. BUDS weeds out the people that don’t need to be there. It’s a real gut check. Usually a lot of people drop out in the first month or so and then they start training you in guns and weapons and explosives and diving and stuff like that. Once you graduate BUDS there is a lot more training you have to go through but BUDS is the basic stuff. That’s the real nuts and bolts of becoming a Navy SEAL.
AC: Now I know you can’t talk about your deployments and stuff like that. I’m just curious, without getting into any depth or details. What’s it like being away from home for such a lengthy amount of time and being in a foreign place? What is that like?
DJ: Before you even sign up as Navy SEAL, you understand what you’re training for. For me, deployments are not bad. I don’t mind being away. I only did six months at a time. For us, that’s all we train for. In football, you train for the games day in and day out. That’s what we did over and over again. And once you get to go on deployment, it’s like a relief, like we’re finally here. It was good for us and I think for most Navy SEALs, they loved going on deployments because it’s what we’ve been training to do the whole time. And if you don’t get to use the skills you train for, what good is it to you? And so I think that being away for those six months at a time is a pretty good opportunity. I enjoyed my time out there.
AC: Alright so 2016-2017 rolls around and you decide to do something you’ve never done before and that is play football! Not only do you decide to play football, but at a major D-I level. What made you decide to play football all of a sudden for the first time?
DJ: It was about two years before I got out of the Navy that I decided I wanted to get out officially of the Navy and go to school. So I was 22 at the time and I knew I had to get out “now” if I wanted to play any sports in college. I used to play baseball for 16 years and then I played soccer. I used to live in France as a foreign exchange student (that’s where I learned to play soccer). But I didn’t think I could do that anymore because I had gained a lot of weight and it didn’t suit the sports I used to play. So I decided football was going to be the sport I wanted to play even though I’d never played it just cause pure body size and what I thought I could do on the team. So two years prior to getting out, that’s when I started calling around to schools and stuff like that. I knew it was a long shot but I wanted to go for a D-I school, I didn’t want to settle for a juco school. I wanted to shoot my shot and land somewhere good, which fortunately it did happen.
AC: Now WHY Nebraska? You’re from Las Vegas, so how did you end up specifically at Lincoln, Nebraska?
DJ: So I actually didn’t know anything about Nebraska prior to getting out of the Navy. When I was looking for schools, my mom’s boss — he’s a dentist — he actually used to play here in the 60s. He told me about the school and taught me everything about it. He invited us up to a game and I was able to meet Coach (Mike) Riley. That was the first introduction to Nebraska that I ever had. So once it was time to get out of the Navy, it was hard to get in touch with recruiters and coaches because I’d never played before and people don’t really want to hear that. I had to make a decision and I had to pack my bags and I came here because it was the only place I actually ever talked to a coach. I didn’t get in contact with any other coaches besides here with the face to face. I came here, got enrolled, got accepted, and did their walk-on tryout without them even knowing I was coming. It was kind of a big gamble for me. My plan was just to pack my bags and go from school to school until I found a home by just trying out over and over again. Luckily the first school I tried was the one I got on with.
AC: So you’re over a year in now. So what do you think of football and is it what you thought it would be coming in?
DJ: Yeah, I love it! I love the sport right now. They have me playing D-end and have me long snapping so I love it. The people here are great, they remind me of the SEALs and all my brothers I had over there. Here it’s the same camaraderie and in the gym in the weight room and when we’re outside. It’s great here!
AC: So freshman initiation, the hazing ... they do any of that to you?
DJ: Not at all. I don’t know if they were too scared or what, but I think most people on the team respected me because I was a lot older than the guys. None of that really happened.
AC: That doesn’t surprise me. So what does it mean to you to be chosen to carry the American flag out and lead the team? Normally this happens with a senior — not that I think anybody is going to have a problem with it. What did it mean to you to hold the flag and lead the team out on to the field before the games?
DJ: It’s a good honor to do that. I loved that! Before our first game, someone came up to me and handed me the flag and said that I’m the only one in the room who deserved that. I loved the fact I could lead the team out with the flag and I was happy I could do that every time.
AC: So you’re back into civilian life a little if you will. How has your first year back into civilian life been? You’re going to school, you’re playing football and everything else that life encompasses since you’ve been out. How’s it been?
DJ: I think it’s good. Even though I was a Navy SEAL, I still had a life outside of the Navy. The transition wasn’t hard at all just to come out here and do what I love doing. I’m still living the same life with good people around me. I’m working hard with good people around me. I don’t think the transition was hard, I like what’s going on around me now.
AC: I’m sure there’s been some surprises. I played football starting in seventh grade and when I got to Nebraska there were some things that surprised the crap out of me. I just wasn’t ready for it, it was college football! What is the biggest surprise you’ve had in your first year of college football and what are some lessons you’ve been able to share with the guys around you?
DJ: I think the biggest surprise to me once I got on the team was learning about the game itself. The playbook and the rules. The rules weren’t too bad, but the playbook was the biggest surprise to me. Once I got to the room with Bob Diaco, they had me working with the linebackers, and he started talking about the plays and it just sounded like Japanese to me. I didn’t understand ANY of it! It took me a long time to understand what any of the stuff meant! I had to stay in the room with just one person and have them teach me over and over again just what the plays meant. Just trying to teach me everything there was about the whole entire playbook. That was the biggest shock to me and it took me a couple months to understand a couple of the plays and what they fully meant. The biggest lessons I took from the military coming in would be like leadership and humility. I honestly don’t like talking about myself, I don’t do it around other people, I don’t boast about being a Navy SEAL. I won’t tell them if they don’t ask, if they already know then that’s cool but I take the leadership role pretty seriously. I’m trying to bestow upon people the work ethic I had when I was in the Navy. In the gym, on the field and trying to get people going when they’re down.
AC: So you’re a defensive lineman, being a former defensive lineman myself, I know a lot of guys who would take MMA training in the offseason, because of the hand-to-hand contact. Getting the offensive lineman’s hands off of you is ginormous! And winning that hand-to-hand battle, that leverage and inside hand placement is huge so a lot of guys take MMA training. In fact, Cleveland just brought in Chuck Liddell for an entire day to work with their defensive lineman. He had them doing knee strikes to the bag — I didn’t quite get that part but it was fun to watch the video nonetheless! Would you say the combat training and hand-to-hand training you’ve received has helped you in those hand-to-hand battles?
DJ: So I think there is a little bit of misconception of Navy SEALs and how well they fight with hand-to-hand. (In my SEAL training), I’ve always had a gun, I’ve always had something in my hand. If you go down to hand to hand combat, you’re in a really bad situation! I’ve had prisoner handling, but that is not the same as MMA stuff. So once I got on the team, everyone thought the same thing — you’ll just be able to win every fight, you’ll do everything with your hands cause you’re just so good with your hands. Truth is, that’s not the case. We’ve always had a gun. (Navy SEALs) is not like true MMA. I’ve taken MMA for like 6 months, but it was not the same. I believe it would help but I’m not the expert on that and I wouldn’t be able to answer that truthfully.
AC: Alright Damian! I appreciate you joining me. Keith Mann has my number, I send this to every player who comes on the show. You ever need me, hit me up, get my number I’m easy to get a hold of. Always there for my Husker brothers. I appreciate you joining me. As far as you fans at home, summer schedule every Monday 8 a.m. Central time, never miss it.
Until then, Go Big Red and always remember to ...
DJ: THROW THE BONES!
Thanks again to the Nebraska Spine Hospital. Ladies and gentlemen, when it’s your spine, you do not want to mess around. Experience matters. That’s why you can trust the experts at Nebraska Spine Hospital, the region’s only spine specific hospital. They are the best at what they do.