By Andrew Johnson
MUSKEGON – The last 15 months have been a whirlwind for former Mona Shores quarterback Tyree Jackson.
In January of 2019, Jackson had multiple options on the table, after three great seasons as the starting quarterback at the University of Buffalo. He could have return to Buffalo for his redshirt senior season, transferred as a graduate student to another university for one season, or declare himself eligible for the NFL draft.
Jackson chose to declare for the draft, and to the surprise of many, was not selected. He eventually signed with the Buffalo Bills as an undrafted free agent.
“It was crazy,” said Jackson, who threw for 6,999 yards and 49 touchdowns at the University of Buffalo. “I declared in early January and then went to California the day after. I then went to the Senior Bowl, then the NFL combine and then my pro day, before ending up at rookie minicamp. I didn’t really have time to think too much, because it was so non-stop, but I loved every minute of it.”
Jackson played in all four Bills preseason games last summer, totaling one rushing touchdown, one passing touchdown, 315 passing yards and 110 rushing yards, before being a part of the team’s final cuts.
After being cut, Jackson had time to think about how crazy the last few months had been, and what the future might hold.
“Once I had that time after preseason and getting cut, I reflected,” he said. “I thought about how far I really had come and stuff like that. It motivated me more than anything, and I wanted to go further and continue to do things for Muskegon. I take a lot of pride in where I’m from and in the people who raised me.”
While continuing to have workouts for various teams in the NFL, Jackson was drafted by the DC Defenders of the brand new XFL professional football league. He was chosen in the eighth round with the 65th overall pick in October.
Jackson wasn’t sure at the time if the XFL was a fit for him.
“I was doing NFL workouts still,” he said. “I was drafted, but hadn’t decided if I was going to the XFL or not. But eventually I was missing the game and told my agent that it was something I wanted to do. It became something I was looking forward to.”
Jackson made the team, and when the XFL season began in February, he was second on the depth chart, backing up starter Cardale Jones, a former national champion quarterback at Ohio State.
The Defenders started out 2-0 with Jones under center, but lost their next two games when Jones struggled. Jackson took over for him on the third offensive drive of the team’s fifth game.
“I had known I was going to play,” said Jackson about getting the chance to play on March 8 against St. Louis. “I knew I was going to play a lot in whatever capacity. We got a touchdown right away and I knew I’d get to play the rest of the game.”
Jackson led the Defenders to a 15-6 victory while totaling 39 yards and one touchdown on 9-for-14 passing, with a quarterback rating of 92. He also totaled 32 rushing yards on seven attempts.
Media reports suggest that Jones would have returned as the starting QB if the season had gone on, but there was also speculation that Jackson would see his share of playing time.
Jackson said he always approaches each game with the mentality of a starter, which keeps him prepared to perform.
“Every week I prepared like I was the starter and was going to play a lot,” he said. “So I was ready and took advantage of it by executing the game plan and moving the ball. The first drive we scored and we continued getting field goals to control the game.”
The excitement of getting some playing time and winning a game turned out to be short-lived. The XFL cancelled the remainder of its inaugural season on March 12 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Jackson said he appreciated the opportunity that the XFL gave him, despite having his season cut short.
“It’s professional football,” he said. “The league has a lot of NFL veterans who were drafted, so there was a lot of talent on the field.”
Jackson isn’t quite sure what the future may bring. He could return to the XFL when play resumes, or he might get another opportunity with an NFL team.
“My agent is handling that stuff right now,” he said. “He’s heard from some teams, but with what’s going on in the world and not knowing what’s going to happen, we don’t know.
“But I put all my faith in God and trust in him. Definitely times are tough and we don’t understand why some things are happening. But for me, it’s just about having that trust and faith in God.”
Jackson’s track record suggests that he will eventually succeed in his professional football career.
He became the starting quarterback at Mona Shores as a skinny freshman in 2011, when the team was not very good at all. Mona Shores went 1-8 in his first season, but two years later made the state playoffs for the first time in history, and in 2014 advanced all the way to the Division 2 state finals.
At the University of Buffalo, Jackson joined a team that had only two winning seasons since 2000. Again he proved to be a turnaround specialist. In his final season in 2018, the Bulls won the Mid-American Conference Eastern Division championship, qualified for a bowl game, and Jackson was the conference Offensive Player of the Year and Most Valuable Player.
But even has he climbed the ladder of success, Jackson kept a close eye on what was happening back at his high school. He was thrilled last fall when Mona Shores won the first state football championship in school history.
“I’m so proud of Coach Koziak and that team,” he said. “Being the first team to win a state championship is such a huge thing. It’s just awesome to see the changes in expectations for the football team. It couldn’t have been done without Koziak and (assistant coach) Aaron James.”