By JOE SCALZO
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
ANN ARBOR, Mich. -- A few years ago, when Marlin Jackson was a sophomore at the University of Michigan, he got tickets for one of his uncles for the Wolverines' game against Ohio State in Columbus.
His uncle, who passed away last year, was a big Marlin Jackson fan. He was also a big Ohio State football fan.
You can guess which side won out.
"He came to the game dressed in all red," Jackson said, laughing. "Every time I saw him, whenever I went home, he would tell me he was still a Buckeye fan even though I played for Michigan.
"He always wanted Ohio State to win, but he wanted me to do well."
Mission accomplished. The Buckeyes won that game, 14-9, en route to the national title in 2002. And, over the past four years, Jackson has done very well.
First round likely
The Sharon High graduate is expected to be a first-round pick in Saturday's NFL Draft, capping an outstanding college career that includes two Rose Bowl appearances, two Big Ten titles and a bevy of postseason awards.
He'll watch Saturday's draft at his uncle Dale Jackson's house on Youngstown's South Side along with several family members. Jackson was born in Youngstown -- he moved to Sharon when he was 6 -- and most of his family still lives here.
"My uncle's house is the one with the most space," Jackson said. "It seemed like the best place to have [the draft party]."
Jackson plans to watch the first few picks to see where his Michigan teammate, wideout Braylon Edwards, is drafted, then take a break until about the midway point of the first round.
"I'm not going to sit around and watch the whole thing," he said. "I'm going to need to step away from it, maybe walk around and do something to take my mind off of it."
Jackson, a 6-foot-1, 198-pound cornerback, is expected to be selected in the mid to late first round.
"I'm really looking forward to hearing my name and getting that phone call," Jackson said. "It'll be a dream come true."
Meeting the press
Jackson has spent the past few months working out for NFL teams, doing interviews -- he had an online chat with ESPN on Wednesday -- and doing his best to get ready for his next career step.
"It's been a learning experience," he said. "A positive life experience. You go through a lot of different situations with training and interviewing and you definitely grow as a person."
After a stellar high school career, many in Sharon wanted Jackson to stay in Pennsylvania and attend Penn State. But after making his visits, Michigan felt like home and he's spent the last four years in Ann Arbor growing as a person and a player.
"You have no choice but to grow," Jackson said. "If you want to be successful, you always have to strive to get better. Guys who stay the same from high school to college don't move on to the next level."
Part of the growth process came before his junior season at Michigan, when Jackson was charged with assault for allegedly punching a teammate in an on-campus incident and was suspended for the first game in 2003. He hasn't been in trouble since and said he has put that incident behind him.
"I just learned from the experience," he said. "That was the first and only time I got in trouble. I made a mistake and I learned from it. I'm just trying to make something positive out of the negative things that can happen."
Jackson isn't the highest rated defensive back in this weekend's draft, but he feels like he measures up to anyone.
"I'm just as good, if not better, than all the DBs," he said. "I've played cornerback and safety in college and I'm by far the most versatile. I'll prove that in the NFL."
With NFL officials emphasizing the no-contact rules after five yards, Jackson will have to learn to be less physical with receivers and improve his speed. He thinks he's up to the challenge.
"I'm going to adjust," he said. "Like I was saying before, you have to grow with the game. You have to continue to get better."
Jackson credits his brother, Marko Jackson ("He motivated me to be a successful person," he said) and his aunt, Gwendolyn Pope ("She took me out of a bad situation and helped raise me," he said) as his two biggest influences.
And on Saturday, all the hard work and dedication of the past few years will pay off when Jackson realizes his dream.
"It's really exciting," he said. "I'm not really sure where I'm going to go. The draft is so unpredictable and you don't really know what teams are thinking.
"You've just got to wait and see."