Tyree Jackson is experiencing the rewards of success as he leads the University at Buffalo football team into its regular-season finale.
The quarterback from Norton Shores, Mich., has thrown for 2,454 yards and 24 touchdowns, and he has helped the Bulls to unprecedented success this season.
Jackson and the Bulls (9-2, 6-1 Mid-American Conference), however, are in a must-win situation when they face Bowling Green at noon Friday in northwest Ohio. A win against the Falcons will earn the Bulls the MAC East Division championship and a berth in the MAC championship game at 7 p.m. Nov. 30 at Ford Field in Detroit.
The 6-foot-7, 245-pound redshirt junior enters the regular-season finale ranked first in the MAC in passing yards, second in the MAC in passing average (223.1 yards per game) and tied for the MAC lead with Bowling Green quarterback Jarret Doege in touchdown passes.
Jackson, a redshirt junior, is also a potential NFL Draft pick in 2019. While DraftScout.com ranks Jackson as the No. 14 quarterback in the 2020 NFL Draft, CBSSports.com in October projected Jackson as one of the top five quarterbacks available for the 2019 draft in its weekly “QB Stock Watch.” Sports Illustrated earlier this month labeled Jackson as “one of the Group of Five’s most interesting prospects right now.”
In a conversation with The Buffalo News last week, before the Bulls’ 52-17 loss at Ohio, Jackson discussed the value of team chemistry in UB’s success this season, his outlook regarding NFL draft projections and his game day routine, which includes some deliberate deleting of his access to social media.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed for space.
BN: What has been the most gratifying part of this season for you?
Jackson: Definitely just how the team has played as a whole. Reaching the point of nine wins has been really special and I think the senior class has done a great job. As a whole, that’s been the funnest part.
BN: For you, personally, in that game against Toledo, what did it say to you about your team’s willingness to come back, your team’s ability to come back and to respond to that adversity? It was really a turning point, with your team down 17-7 at halftime.
Jackson: Our coaches do a great job, and Coach Zebrowski (UB quarterbacks coach Jim Zebrowski) does a great job in the quarterback room of always keeping us positive, no matter what happens. No matter what the score is, to keep that even keel and that positive attitude. That’s influenced me as a player, and it’s kept me levelheaded as a player, when I face that adversity.
BN: You’re a social science/interdisciplinary studies major. What, exactly, is the focus of your degree? It’s a very broad area. How do you explain your major to someone?
Jackson: What I want to do, I want to coach and teach, so I’m going to try to get my master’s in education. Right now, my focus for my degree is early childhood development, so working with younger kids and how they grow, and that aspect of their lives. That’s what I’m focused on, academically, and I’m graduating in December, so I’m excited.
BN: Why decide to teach and coach? Did someone have an influence on you, or is it something you gravitated towards?
Jackson: I don’t think I’m the type of person who would want to work in a cubicle or in an office setting. I like being around kids and helping kids and making their life better.
BN: Life after football, when you step away from the game, what do you see yourself doing? Is there a particular grade or age group you want to work with, or do you want to try something completely new?
Jackson: Definitely, I just want to give back and help kids. That’s what I want to do, when it’s all said and done. When I’m done playing, whenever that is, I want to come back and give back to kids, and help kids get further than I went.
BN: Last season you withstood some injuries and you played a partial schedule. (Jackson sustained a knee injury in September 2017 and missed four games). What helped you through that stretch and kept you positive through that?
Jackson: Definitely my faith. Trusting in God, and understanding that everything happens for a reason. You might not understand, right then and there, but it will make sense later down the road. Just really, understanding that, and trusting God.
Looking back on that, that probably influenced my life, more than anything.
BN: How so? What, in particular about that influenced you?
Jackson: That moment just made me, really, lean on my faith, and it really made me understand that football is a game and it can be taken away whenever. But you have to have that faith and you have to have that faith as your backbone. That kind of led to me getting baptized in the spring, and it changed my life.
BN: How did that whole experience propel you into this season?
Jackson: It made me hungry. And I just want to enjoy each game with my teammates. I don’t take anything for granted. I enjoy each practice. I enjoy each meeting. And I just enjoy the time I have at the stadium and the time I have with my coaches and teammates. It’s a blessing to be on this team and be around these people.
BN: Personally, you’ve had a very productive season and there’s been mention of you as a possible candidate for the 2019 NFL Draft. Have you thought about the future at all, or are you trying to stay in the moment?
Jackson: I’m staying in the moment. It would be a disservice to my teammates to think about anything other than this season. I owe it to them to go out there and play my heart out and have complete focus on each week. I haven’t thought about it and Coach Zebrowski does a great job of just keeping me focused and keeping me locked in.
BN: Why is that so important for an athlete, that focus? To stay locked in, to have the people around you keep you on track?
Jackson: Whenever you get off task or start thinking about other things, it’s when you slip up and you know you’re not playing where you want to play, and you look back and wonder, “Why?” But I think it’s mainly staying locked in and focusing on the task at hand.
BN: What’s a game day routine like for you?
Jackson: Wake up, and I always talk to my family throughout the day. Then, around three or four hours before the game, I delete all social media and put my phone on airplane mode, and listen to music and get locked in. Postgame, I enjoy the time with my teammates and the guys in the locker room. We put a lot of hard work in, and hanging out and enjoying it with those guys and their seniors, knowing they’ll be gone soon, you want to soak it all up.
BN: You’re part of a very successful athletic program here at UB. What does it mean to be a part of that, and to see the success of the men’s and women’s basketball teams?
Jackson: It’s awesome. The thing about UB is that all of the athletes are very close with each other. Every time there’s a basketball game, we’re turning it on and we’re watching, and we’re so proud of those guys, especially how they finished against West Virginia. The women’s team, too. We all root for each other.
BN: For UB to have this kind of success in football this year, what does it mean to you to be able to say, “I helped be a part of this, and build this team into something great?”
Jackson: It’s awesome. It’s special. It’s a special thing to be a part of. A big credit goes to the guys in the locker room. As a team, we really jell together and we have a lot more to go this year. But I think the chemistry we’ve had has led us this far.