This past offseason, College of San Mateo right guard Dominick Jackson had Division I schools drooling over him.
The 6-foot-7, 305-pound Jackson had actually committed to UCLA, but Alabama came calling -- the same Alabama who has captured three of the past four Bowl Championship Series titles. He saved up enough money to take an unofficial visit to the Tuscaloosa, Ala., campus after summer school was over.
Jackson was blown away by his visit, making it a no-brainer to sign on with the Crimson Tide. He's the second Bulldog in the past two seasons to sign on with a school from the Southeastern Conference.
Former teammate and fellow offensive lineman Hoko Fanaika is now at LSU on a scholarship.
"I've seen schools come in and out of here, so when Alabama reached out, I said to myself, 'This can't be real,'" Jackson said. "I know Alabama is far from home, but to get to the top, you have to sacrifice."
But it wasn't the scholarship offers from powerhouses Oregon, Southern Cal, Florida and Texas A&M that drove Jackson to this point. Nor was it the grind of dropping his weight from 340 pounds as an incoming freshman to now being a 305-pound athletic and agile marvel in CSM's power-running scheme that is averaging 271 yards on the ground per game.
The former Homestead High School of Sunnyvale standout -- who has helped CSM start the season 7-0 and rank No. 4 in the state -- made a pact to sacrifice and ignore the callings of the fast life with a person he never got a chance to celebrate his commitment to Alabama with -- his stepbrother Raymond Lewin-Phipps.
Lewin-Phipps, 19, was shot and killed on Aug. 20 in East Palo Alto, and never got a chance to speak to Jackson about his commitment to Alabama.
The life Jackson and his brother lived were completely different, but it was Lewin-Phipps who stayed in Jackson's ear about staying focused on education and football.
"Back in high school, all my brother kept telling me was get my education, keep pushing and try my hardest to put my family in a better position," Jackson said. "When I put those shoulder pads on, that's all I think about. Every time success comes my way, I look up to the sky and tell him, 'I wish you could see what's happening. I wish you could see this.'"
While Jackson keeps Lewin-Phipps and his motivational talks in his mind, he admits the life of being at a junior college can be tough. He lives 30 minutes away from the Peninsula campus. He often has to bring three to four bags to school to make sure he has food, a change of clothes, and, most importantly, his school books.
According to Jackson, to consistently go through a rigorous routine as his, it's all about having the right mindset.
"If you don't come ready to work, come ready to do what you need to do to succeed, you might as well pack up your bags and go home," Jackson said.
With Alabama on the horizon, he isn't yelling and chanting "Roll Tide!" quite yet. Jackson doesn't plan on doing so until after the season, which he expects to be after winning the California Community College Athletic Conference championship.
"I'm just worried about CSM," Jackson said. "Until the last game, which I pray is the state championship, that's when I can be like 'Roll Tide!' But until then, I'm a CSM Bulldog."