A&E

Menlo College grad writes about surviving the NFL

He stands 6 feet 3 inches tall and weighs 225 pounds.

He needed it all to succeed in the National Football League, playing as a wide receiver and tight end.

"Down, set, hut!" That's his sign to start moving, running the route his quarterback gave him in the huddle. Sprinting down the field as fast as he can, he turns and sees the egg spiraling toward him. Without a thought his arms go up and he catches the ball. The defender smashes into him and both fall to the ground. His shoulder has popped out another time.

This was the beginning of Nate Jackson's rollercoaster ride through the National Football League playing for the Denver Broncos. Jackson, a San Jose native who graduated from and played for Menlo College in Atherton, recently wrote about his experiences in the book, "Slow Getting Up: A story of NFL Survival from the Bottom of the Pile."

NFL players "telling all" after they get out of the league seems to be a rising trend.

"I hoped to offer some perspective for people who maybe don't understand the athlete's (view) or think it is (like) Peyton Manning's life," Jackson said, referring to the renowned quarterback for the Denver Broncos. "Because the NFL is not Peyton Manning's life. For 99 percent of the guys, it is a different experience."

Jackson's book offers an honest and uncensored memoir of everyday life for the 99 percent. He gives both breathtaking and painful insight into what it's like to play in the NFL while telling his story of playing six seasons for the Broncos.

Though he ended up playing professionally, the 34-year old took a more unusual path to his sports career.

"I wasn't thinking NFL in high school at all," Jackson said. "Then I went to Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo), I walked onto their football team and got cut. When I transferred to Menlo College, the dream was revived."

For Jackson, the small Division III school was the door opener to the NFL. Craig Walsh, son of former 49ers head coach Bill Walsh, served as Menlo's athletic director at the time.

During Jackson's time at Menlo, he set many records as a wide receiver and was named first-team All-American during every season he played. Following his senior year in 2001, he also won the NCAA D-III Offensive Player of the Year award.

After playing college ball from 1999 until 2001 and graduating with a degree in communications, Jackson signed as a free agent with the San Francisco 49ers in 2002. He spent his first year with the Bay Area team injured before moving to the Denver Broncos the year after.

The first few chapters of the book illustrate his experience of remaining undrafted to getting that sought-after phone call from the 49ers to then being waived, but picked up by the Broncos. This took him to Denver and included a stint in the NFL Europe, an American football league based in Europe that is no longer in operation, where he played for Rhein Fire, a team based in Dusseldorf, Germany.

For his six years as a Bronco, Jackson alternated between the practice squad and active roster, playing special teams and receiver until, after gaining 30 pounds, he was converted to tight end.

"The first ten days of training camp are the roughest," he writes in the book. "Each day feels like a week. Each step feels like my last. The pain is constant and comes from everywhere, pushing up from the bottom of my feet and down from the top of my rattled skull. But soon there is a preseason game that breaks up the monotony of the ritual lashings."

His responsibilities were to block large defensive players, but also to catch the ball as an outlet receiver if the quarterback got into trouble and needed to release the football quickly. Jackson still had to be a fast runner, as well as to be able to deliver a big hit on an ambushing defender.

Though Jackson watched and learned from some of the best in the league Rod Smith and Stephen Alexander, who played wide receiver and tight end, respectively, for example and eventually won a starting spot for the Broncos, his said his body did not want to keep up.

His book is also a memorandum of injuries and pain, a constant in the National Football League.

"I started to live with the pain," Jackson said. "It was a normal part of my life. The physical pain was something I gained control over. It was empowering just being able to control the pain."

When Jackson finally quit playing professionally after yet another hamstring injury four years ago, he said he started "diving into writing as a way of life and a way to dig into my emotions and my heart. While I was in the NFL, I took a creative writing class in Denver. The next off-season, I took a poetry class. Those opened up my eyes to some different ideas and techniques."

Jackson said he always liked to write in school and wrote a journal for the Broncos' website for about three years.

Some of his writing about the NFL has also been published in online Slate magazine, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal.

He said his focus in the future might steer away from "NFL-style" books, however.

"I think I would like to write some fiction. I don't want to do just football writing. I would like to write about life and the adventures of life, love and people. I want to explore the frontiers of writing and keep working hard at it."

Jackson will read from and discuss his book at Kepler's Books on Tuesday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. For more information, go to keplers.com.

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