Somewhere on the golden coast, the sun is rising on the NFL career of Darius Jackson.
A former Sparta Bulldog and sixth-round pick of the Dallas Cowboys, Jackson doesn't seem to be sweating his first training camp as he prepares for a hot date with destiny. The rookie with the blazing speed will attempt to secure a roster spot over the next few weeks.
After spending mini-camp under the unforgiving sun of Valley Ranch, the Cowboys (4-12 last year) have headed for more tolerable temperatures in Oxnard, California. And while the drop in degrees brings a slight reprieve, Jackson knows the heat will be on when the pads start popping.
"My mindset is the same as it has been through every camp in my life," Jackson says. "From high school to college and now to the NFL, it's a grind. It's all about hard work, and I'm going to be ready for it."
"I'll be focused deep in the playbook and taking care of my body, making sure I'm fresh everyday."
Jackson, who clocks in at a blistering 4.35 seconds in the 40-yard dash, enters the NFL after scoring 16 touchdowns in his senior year at Eastern Michigan. He was one of two rookie running backs taken by Dallas after the team chose Ohio State's Ezekiel Elliott in the first round. Elliott is considered by most NFL observers to have Pro Bowl potential, but he was involved in some controversy recently when his girlfriend accused him of domestic violence — though Elliott was not arrested, nor charged up to press time.
For his part, Jackson says all he is focusing on is the guidance provided by the coaching staff. Even as a sixth-rounder, he hasn't been afraid to take a small leadership role during camp. So, basically, he says he's not feeling any extra heat under his collar just because he's a rookie.
"The best player plays," Jackson says. "We're all going to compete hard for our jobs, and whoever can produce will be out there. That's what I like about our team; it's about competition."
"Rookie or not, you've got to be doing something to contribute. Whether it's at your position or on special teams, its your job to go out there and produce."
Jackson spent part of his youth growing up in nearby Garland, Texas, and says he chose to stay in Dallas this summer to train. It has given him an opportunity to absorb some of the Cowboys' climate, and the rookie says he can feel the burning passion of its fanbase.
"There's no nation like Cowboy Nation," he says. "I can't wait to get it going in camp. It's going to be like a game atmosphere every day out there, even in practice."
"We're obviously America's Team, so the culture of winning is here. We're ready to win. We're ready to make it happen for all of our fans right now, this year."
As he prepares for his first professional game on August 13th against the Los Angeles Rams (ESPN, 7 PM), Jackson faces the hottest spotlight he has ever seen.
And when asked if he will wilt in the pressure cooker of his first NFL training camp, Jackson just looks on the bright side.
"All I see are a whole lot of sunny days ahead."