"Last year, I didn't like talking with the media. Like, not at all."
At the ACC Kickoff, an event were the league's coaches and not top players typically answer questions in clichés and half-truths, Lamar Jackson's words rang especially true.
Given how quickly he was thrust into the local sports spotlight, it's easy to forget that Jackson spent the 2015 football season as an 18-year-old true freshman who just months earlier had been wrapping up high school. After his breakout second half performance in Louisville's season-opening loss to Auburn, the South Florida native went from a teenager who had only been a college student for a handful of weeks, to both the current starting quarterback and the future face of UofL football.
When it's put like that, understanding why Jackson didn't immediately embrace the spotlight becomes an easier task.
In the second week of the season, Jackson made the first start of his college career and struggled mightily. He turned the ball over three times and was ultimately replaced by sophomore Kyle Bolin in a 34-31 upset loss to visiting Houston. Jackson responded the way 18-year-olds sometime do in the face of adversity. He shied away from attention, he gave short, seemingly annoyed responses to questions, and he let his emotions get the best of him on social media after Bolin got the start for Louisville's showcase game against Clemson the next week.
Those first three weeks set the tone for an up-and-down freshman campaign for Jackson in which he never looked fully complacent until the final game of the season. It was then that he had three weeks to catch his breath and prepare for a Music City Bowl game in which he would go up against Texas A&M, a team known for having one of the best defensive lines in college football. The Aggies had no answer for Jackson, who became just the third quarterback ever to rush and throw for more than 200 yards in a bowl game, joining college football legends Vince Young and Johnny Manziel.
Fast-forward seven months and Jackson has had even more time to catch his breath and regain his footing. It shows. With microphones in his face at every turn, during the ACC's annual season-kickoff event, Jackson sparkled. He gave well-thought out answers to difficult questions, he was entertaining, he was pleasant, he was all the things you'd want the freshly-anointed face of your program to be.
In the middle of his podium session at the event, Jackson was informed of the fact that he appeared to be much more comfortable in front of the media than he had at any point the year before. Jackson responded by addressing the statement and then asking the media member two more questions than had been posed to him.
"I've been having a lot of training on my interviews. How am I doing? I'm doing good? All right. It's been fun. It's been a fun experience. At first I was like, 'Media Day, I don't want to do this, coach.' But I'm growing up, so I have to do what I have to do. This is my responsibility."
Jackson's other responsibility, of course, is being in charge of an offense that many are predicting to put up the same video game numbers that Louisville fans enjoyed during Bobby Petrino's first tenure at UofL a decade ago.
"Lamar has really matured," Petrino said. "A year ago, we couldn't run plays with him under center simply because he couldn't remember the plays. He has a great understanding of the game now, of what we're trying to do offensively with him. He's getting better understanding what defenses are trying to do. We're really excited to see what he's going to be able to do this season."
If Jackson's maturation on the field at all mirrors his evolution with the media, then all Louisville fans should be really excited as well.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice-Tribune