William Jackson’s path to the NFL wasn’t an easy one. He started it in the Fifth Ward of Houston, an area known as a low income, high crime neighborhood. From there, he used the constant doubts of his NFL dream as motivation to succeed.
Now Jackson, who is heading into his second season after being drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft, is giving back to the place where it all began at his alma mater, Wheatley High School.
"It's a blessing," Jackson told, Aaron Wilson of the Houston Chronicle. "This is something I always wanted to do when I was little... to give back. God blessed me with a high platform that I could come back and give back. This is where it all started. This is where I got my first hard tackle and knocked my shoulder out of place. I'm just grateful to be back here."
While he was teaching the kids a thing or two about football, he also imparted some wisdom on them about life and accomplishing your dream. That included dealing with doubters for many of his early years, and making a stop at community college due to academic problems.
"You can't listen to what people say," Jackson said. "Everybody says coming from the Fifth Ward that you can't make it out, well, obviously you can. You just want to show these kids that you can make it out just like I did.
"You can do whatever you put your mind to. My dad always told me that sometimes you got to do what you have to do to get where you need to be. I succeeded. Junior college, it doesn't matter what route you take."
Jackson wasn’t the only NFL player at his camp either. He was joined by players like running back Kenneth Farrow (Los Angeles Chargers), wide receiver Demarcus Ayers (Pittsburgh Steelers), free agent fullback Lawrence Vickers and former University of Houston linebacker Elandon Roberts (New England Patriots). Brandon LaFell also made an appearance in his hometown of Houston for his Bengals teammate’s camp.
Jackson also made it clear that he didn’t want to charge the kids to participate, and the camp was free of charge.
"I'm not hurting for money," Jackson said. "I was drafted in the first round. I would rather spend my money on them."
Jackson missed all of his rookie season with a pectoral injury he suffered during training camp. The injury required surgery, but he says he is fully recovered now, and ready to put the frustrations of missing last year behind him.
"Oh yeah, I'm great," Jackson said. "I'm ready to get going. It was tough. I'm competitive and like to play on the field. It was tough, but I embraced it. We're better now and I'm looking forward to the season."
Jackson will compete with a pretty crowded secondary that includes Darqueze Dennard, Josh Shaw and Adam Jones. Jones, who is the projected starter, has been suspended for one game by the NFL for violating the NFL personal-conduct policy. This opens things up for Jackson and Dennard to compete for that perimeter spot opposite starting cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick.
It is great to see Jackson, a player the Bengals hope will be a big part of their future, in the spotlight for such a great cause.
Today I was blessed with an opportunity to give back to my community (5th ward). With my 1st Annual Youth Camp . It was definitely a success . I am most thankful for all the kids that participated. And the parents that were in attendance. I hope that each kid will take something from today and use it as a tool for success. Thanks to all the coaches that volunteered . It was truly a group effort . See y'all next year #iWill