Tyree Jackson has to chuckle when he discusses his last visit to Ford Field in Detroit.
The experience at the Detroit Lions’ home field, the University at Buffalo quarterback explained, was eye-opening. The outcome, though, wasn’t ideal.
Jackson was a quarterback for Mona Shores High School in Norton Shores, Mich., when the Sailors played for the Division 2 state championship in December of 2014 against Warren De La Salle, which easily dispatched the Sailors, 44-8.
The thought of it still doesn’t sit well with Jackson. Now, the junior quarterback for the Bulls has another chance to win in Detroit when the Bulls face Northern Illinois at 7 p.m. Friday at Ford Field in the MAC championship game. UB (10-2, 7-1) plays for the MAC championship for the first time since 2008.
“We’re not taking this for granted,” said Jackson, who on Wednesday was named the MAC offensive player of the year. “We’re very excited for this opportunity, but we know we have to take care of business. Our goal wasn’t just to get there. Our goal is to go out there and play our best football.”
Jackson is one of seven players on the UB roster who is from Michigan, including wide receiver K.J. Osborn and tight end Tyler Mabry are from Ypsilanti, about 35 miles west of Detroit, and defensive end Chuck Harris, who is from Southfield, a suburb about 15 miles northwest of Detroit.
Ford Field is about a three-hour drive from Jackson’s hometown, which is on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan and 195 miles northwest of Detroit.
“It’s kind of tough for a lot of people to travel to my games in Buffalo, other than family,” said Jackson, who is second in the MAC in passing yards (2,605) and touchdown passes (25). “But it will be nice to see old teachers, old coaches and a lot of my friends. That will be cool for after the game, but right now, I’m really focused on playing in the game and taking care of that.”
Among those in attendance Friday night at Ford Field will be Matt Koziak, the Mona Shores football coach, and his family.
When Koziak first met Jackson, he remembered one thing that stood out about Jackson: he had hands the size of dinner plates. It was an unusual trait for a 13-year old who blossomed from a 5-foot-9 eighth grader into a 6-foot-7 college football prospect who verbally committed to the Bulls in August of 2014.
He remembered something else about Jackson: his resiliency, a trait Jackson displayed in one of his first offseason workouts with the Sailors.
Jackson attempted to hop on a treadmill that was going at full speed, but couldn’t get his footing as he attempted to sprint. He fell to the ramp of the treadmill, which took the skin off his shins. Koziak didn’t think Jackson would come back, but about 20 minutes later, Jackson returned with his shins covered in gauze, and hopped onto the treadmill a second time.
“That said a lot about him, being this little guy with all these older kids, and embarrassing himself in front of them, but it didn’t faze him,” Koziak said. “And for the next four years, he never missed a workout. His work ethic is unmatched.”
Jackson, Koziak said, showed that same resiliency three years later when he played for the Division 2 state championship at Ford Field, a week after he dislocated his knee in a state semifinal.
Jackson finished his four years at Mona Shores sixth all-time among Michigan high school football players in passing yards (8,028), seventh in pass attempts (845), seventh in completions (475) and fifth all-time in career touchdown passes (85).
After his success at Mona Shores, Koziak, the Mona Shores football team and the Bulls watched how far Jackson went in college football, but little did Koziak know that Jackson would return to Ford Field as part of another championship contender.
“There’s a lot of pride in that, in our community and in our district and for the young kids coming up in the football program,” Koziak said. “It’s going to be great to see him come back and play for a championship. I’m sure a ton of people from Mona Shores will be there at Ford Field, I know my wife and I will be there, and some of our assistant coaches, and his family will be there. It’s exciting to see this.
“What Tyree did at Mona Shores to help build the program here, he’s doing that at Buffalo, too.”
The MAC announced Wednesday that a record 10 UB football players have earned All-MAC honors, including six first-team selections.
Jackson, the MAC offensive player of the year, is the first UB quarterback to earn All-MAC honors.
Lance Leipold was named the MAC coach of the year, joining Turner Gill as the lone UB coaches to win the award. Gill was honored in 2007. Running back Jaret Patterson was named MAC freshman of the year. Aaron Leeper, in 2002, is the only other UB player to take him the award.
Jackson joins center James O'Hagan, wide receiver Anthony Johnson, tight end Tyler Mabry, defensive end Chuck Harris and linebacker Khalil Hodge as the Bulls' first-team All-MAC selections. Johnson and Hodge both repeated as first-team selections. O'Hagan, a former All-MAC honoree, was selected to the first team for the first time.
Buffalo placed four on the All-MAC second team, including Patterson, left tackle Evin Ksiezarczyk, cornerback Cameron Lewis and wide receiver K.J. Osborn. Osborn was also named to the All-MAC third team as a punt returner – the first time a UB player has been named to the All-MAC teams at two positions.