For four years, Kearis Jackson has had the same wish.
His birthday falls on December 9, still around the time of the SEC Championship game. Every year he wants one of those shiny SEC title rings for a birthday present.
This wish was not granted. Georgia lost three SEC Championship games during Jackson’s four years in Athens. But as he met the media on Wednesday, standing against a black backdrop of the 2022 college football playoffs, Jackson appreciated the opportunity to play for an even bigger price tag.
“Today it finally came up that I will play in my first national championship,” said Jackson. “It was like a dream come true and a trip too.”
While this is the first he will star in, it is not the first time Jackson has prepared for a national championship.
As the first entry in the class of 2018, Jackson worked on the scouting squad as the Bulldogs prepared to face Alabama in the national championship that season. He said he felt like he was part of the team that week before he returned home to watch this competition.
“Being able to watch the game on TV kind of fueled me that, man, in the next few months I’m about to be in the same colors with these same guys, can play for something more bigger than I expected, the national championship, ”Jackson said.
The Bulldogs often say training is more difficult than games. Jackson had a heavy dose of it when he arrived in Athens permanently in January 2018.
He resisted the physical nature of the practices. After all, Jackson comes from a tough football program at Peach County High School. But other aspects let him know he had work to do if he wanted to contribute.
“Just all the volume, all the running and stuff like that, had to get in shape, fit, like, the way Georgia trains,” Jackson said. “I just wasn’t too late when I got here, things like that in terms of physics. But I had to learn to push myself a little harder, to be able to maintain reps, to maintain the practice time, because it all lengthens a bit once you get to college. “
Jackson’s time in Georgia was mercurial. He only played four games and didn’t catch any assists in the freshman. Jackson then broke his hand in Game 1 of the season in 2019 and missed three games.
It finally erupted in 2020, racking up 36 catches for 514 yards and three touchdowns over the 10-game season. But that role has diminished this season, as Jackson’s stats drop to 15 catches for 186 yards and one touchdown in 14 games.
“I know my role is a little smaller this year, I still see him as a major key part of this team because I am,” Jackson said. “And just knowing what I’m doing for this team, I’m playing my part just being there for my teammates. It’s the best thing I can do right now. And I enjoy it, man.”
Jackson is used to having to persevere. He said his mother was tough on him as a child, telling him things wouldn’t always turn out the way they should. She taught him not to let a problem or inconvenience define who he is as a person.
Those twists and turns have now brought Jackson to Indianapolis for his first chance at a national title. It’s not the birthday present he always wanted, but it’s a chance to be upgraded.