Donte Jackson lay on the ground stretching one leg and then the other.
Teammates are doing the same around him. They’re preparing for a grueling two-hour practice in the blistering sun.
A few minutes later, practice begins. Jackson and others are running. They’re jumping. They’re pulling 45-pound plates behind them. All the while, coaches watch their every move.
Track coaches, that is.
Today, a Monday, Jackson is at track and field practice.
Tomorrow, a Tuesday, Jackson will practice football across Nicholson Drive.
“Doing two sports,” Jackson said, “you never have really an off day.”
You probably know Jackson as a speedy cornerback and electric return man, a highly recruited football prospect that LSU lured to Baton Rouge and then shoved into early playing time last season.
Dennis Shaver also knows him as a talented 100-meter dash participant, a freshman who will eventually land on LSU’s 4x100 relay team and such a talented individual that Shaver compares him to former two-sport star Trindon Holliday.
“He’s a great competitor. You can’t coach people to be competitive,” said Shaver, in his 12th season as LSU’s track and field coach. “He’s somebody we look at to be a really good contributor.”
LSU secondary coach Corey Raymond said the same. Jackson is one of three players Raymond referred to as starters at cornerback for LSU, joining Tre’Davious White and Kevin Toliver.
And Jackson will get some spot duties on offense, too, like being one of LSU’s jet sweep guys.
The Tigers are scheduled to conduct their 10th football practice of the spring Tuesday, and Jackson will be there a day after his days with the sprinters, hurdlers and long jumpers at Bernie Moore Track Stadium.
“Some things a lot of athletes want to do coming in,” Jackson said last week in his first interview opportunity since August. “I’m blessed to get a chance to try it out as a freshman. I love it, love the track team. I love being around those guys as much as I love being around the football players.”
On days without football practice — LSU spreads its 14 practices over five weeks — Jackson is at track and field. On days with football practice, he’s at football practice.
Jackson must still stay within the NCAA’s maximum of 20 hours of athletic work each week. The NCAA doesn’t relax the rule for two-sport athletes.
“That includes meetings he has over (at football) that we want him to be in,” Shaver said. “We’re real cognizant of that.”
The 173-pound Jackson is far from the first football player to juggle a track career.
Holliday comes to Shaver’s mind first. The electric return man and running back for LSU won the NCAA title in the 100 meters in 2009. Many still consider Holliday the fastest player ever to play college football.
Shaver is treating Jackson like Holliday: a raw, talented kid who, with experience and technique, can be one of the best.
“Each year, he learned more about the mechanics, about the concepts. … He worked really hard on those little things,” Shaver said of Holliday. “Donte, I think, is going to be the same way.”
Jackson already made a splash last month at the Southeastern Conference indoor championships. During the preliminary round, he ran the 60 in 6.63 seconds — then a time that vaulted him into the nation’s top 10 for that event and qualified him for the NCAA championship meet.
“He got in there and made a name for himself,” Shaver said.
Jackson strained his hamstring during that preliminary run, knocking him out of the 60-meter SEC finals and NCAAs. It forced him to miss a handful of football practices as well.
He hasn’t run a track event since, but he’s back fully healthy now, Shaver said, juggling the sports. They’re not so different, and there are benefits, too.
Jackson said his “quick-twitch” muscles improve at track. As a cornerback, that helps.
“What we ask somebody to do for the 100 meters is very similar to a lot of the things they do over there, as far as how to accelerate,” Shaver said. “The concepts and the techniques we teach are pretty much identical to how (strength coach Tommy) Moffitt and them do over there.”
Shaver and his staff attempt to “maximize velocity,” he said, whether that’s through technique, form or mental confidence. Jackson isn’t lacking in the latter.
Jackson is asked if he’ll run track against any SEC receivers — the guys he defends against in football.
Said Jackson: “He’s going to lose twice.”