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Thank you, Lamar Jackson

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No 8 forever.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Louisville Jamie Rhodes-USA TODAY Sports

Following a sensational and spectacular debut in the 2015 season opener against Auburn, I submitted an article that boldly compared Lamar Jackson to Cam Newton and Michael Vick. I even had the nerve to predict he had the potential to be better than both.

Thank you Lamar for proving me right.

My prediction was made out of hope and fanaticism, not certainty or experience, and no one in their wildest of dreams could have fathomed what Lamar Jackson accomplished during his career at the University of Louisville. The stats, the records, the jaw dropping plays that made you slap the side of your television believing it to be a glitch, the effort, the individual awards and accolades… a Heisman Trophy. Thank you Lamar.

Is Lamar Jackson the greatest college player of all time? Debatable, but he is the best I’ve seen in my lifetime. Is Lamar Jackson the most underappreciated/divisive player in football? Without a doubt, but feel free to disagree. Fortunately for Lamar, UofL, and college football, facts and history cannot be rewritten by Todd McShay, Mel Kiper, and social media mafias. Lamar Jackson accomplished things on the field that had never before been done in the history of Louisville, the Atlantic Coast Conference, and all of college football. Thank you Lamar.

None of us will ever forget the endless highlights he provided, nor the electricity he brought to each and every snap of the ball, but what I will always cherish about Lamar is the kind of person and teammate he was/is. In three seasons, he missed just one game due to an ankle injury. He never spoke a negative word about a single teammate publicly. Lamar never threw his offensive line under the bus after being sacked 22 times in the final three games of 2016. He never criticized his defense after allowing record breaking games to Wake Forest and Boston College. Lamar Jackson never put blame on anyone but himself. With number eight, it was always “we win as a team, we lose as a team”. Thank you Lamar.

Jackson may have been a completely different figure in private. It is possible he disliked his teammates and coaches, and perhaps he regretted his decision to come to Louisville. If Jackson was any different behind closed doors then he was in the public eye, his teammates, coaches, and all of the media covered beautifully for him. As the saying goes, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it probably is a duck. Lamar Jackson looked like a great person, acted like a great person, and countless of those close to him reminded us weekly how wonderful he is. Thank you Lamar.

Perhaps the purest example of who Lamar Jackson is was during his acceptance speech at the Heisman Trophy Ceremony. In just over five minutes, the whole world was witness to Lamar’s humility, genuine happiness, and heartwarming shyness. He is just a kid, playing a sport that he loves while trying his best to not disappoint anyone. Thank you Lamar.

The only thing missing from Jackson’s three year career at Louisville was team success. 2015 was a rebuilding year for Louisville and number eight wasn’t on campus until the beginning of fall camp. He started six games that season and laid the ground work for what was to come. UofL finished 8-5 in 2015 and had Lamar not been on the team, it is hard to see UofL making a bowl game. Jackson put the country on notice in Nashville and hopes were high entering 2016. Bobby finally had his man.

2016 was going to be the year. “Old Bobby” was back and Louisville was arguably the best team in the country following a 63-20 soul crushing defeat of Florida State. The stage was set for October 1. Louisville at Clemson for the ACC Atlantic division title, as well as the driver’s seat for the college football playoff. Lamar rose the occasion yet again and carried Louisville to a 36-28 lead well into the 4th quarter. Following a special teams melt down and defensive confusion, the Cardinals were trailing 42-36 with one last chance. Jackson spectacularly led UofL down the field in position to win. A few missed penalties later and number eight was down to his last play. Jackson executed the designed underneath route to James Quick and with a chance to cut it back to pick up the 1st down or even score, Quick unexpectedly ran straight out of bounds. Game over, spirits crushed… for a week. Thank you Lamar.

The 2016 Cardinals bounced back in unwavering fashion winning their next five games by an average of 27 points. Then, everything imploded. Louisville was accused of stealing Wake Forest’s playbook. The Cardinals were decimated by Houston as Lamar was sacked 11 times. A cloudy civil war broke out among the coaching staff which is still shrouded in mystery. UofL then collapsed late against rival Kentucky and were beaten like a drum by LSU. You cannot, and I will not blame number eight for whatever transpired on sidelines in 2016. Through it all, Jackson was Jackson. He took responsibility, he spoke with the media, and he praised his teammates. Thank you Lamar.

Louisville Football in 2017 arrived with high expectations coupled with several unknowns. Three new coaches were hired which included a complete overhaul of the defensive system. Coach Petrino decided to make Louisville a pass first/tempo oriented offense and the results were mixed. The yards were there, but Louisville had issues scoring touchdowns and until the last three games of the season, the Cardinals defense was nonexistent. Lamar wasn’t perfect, but he carried the team as best he could and the Cardinals only looked the part when they balanced the offense with running backs and Lamar Jackson. 2017 was a disappointment, but I cannot fault Jackson for how awful the defense played, the endless injuries to key players, and the reluctance to utilize Louisville’s true running backs: Malik Williams, Colin Wilson (pre-injury), and Dae Williams. The bowl game was Lamar’s worst of his career. He shouldered the blame to the media and it was gut wrenching to watch his career end that way.

With nothing left to play for, and with nothing left to prove, Jackson was as loud as he had ever been when he declared he was playing in the Taxslayer.com Bowl. He claimed he owed it to his teammates and coaches, he said he owed it to us fans. Lamar, you never owed us a thing and you never will.

When many others throughout the country, including players on his own team, bolted from campus putting I before We, the greatest player in the history of college football stood up and said this is my team, this is my school, these are my fans, and I owe it to them to play. If you remember nothing else about Lamar Jackson, remember that. Remember how a Heisman Trophy winner, the kid who holds almost every Louisville offensive record, that smiling 20 year old who had everything to lose and nothing to gain, led his 8-4 team onto the field in a “meaningless” bowl game and played every down. There will never be another Cardinal like Action Jackson. Thank you Lamar, for everything.

P.S.

If he comes back, which part of me hopes he doesn’t, this article can be reissued a year from now and his number should be retired and a statue should be built for the 2018 home opener.