A round this time last year, my brother Edwin had just been placed on injured reserve after he decided to have minor hip surgery in August. He wanted to have the surgery so that he could return to the football field in his best shape ever — so that he could dominate the game. He was locked into a Kobe-type focus. Edwin wanted to come back from IR as a leader — a role model in the Colts’ organization, and throughout the city of Indianapolis.
By mid-September of 2017, Edwin was well on his way: The surgery had been successful, his recovery was going better than expected and his spirits were high. He was working out constantly — even when he was on the phone. (I swear I could hear the pedals of his stationary bike spinning in the background during most of our conversations.) And when I’d ask him how his day was going, he’d always say something like, “Bringing it next year, no matter what,” or, “Super Bowl in Atlanta!” or, “Your boy gonna be flying out there.”
He was so focused.
By the end of the 2017 season, Edwin had fully recovered from the surgery. He was preparing for minicamp in the spring and the 2018 season.
He was so ready.
And then … everything changed in an instant.
At approximately three in the morning on Sunday, February 4, my brother Edwin Jackson was hit by a drunk driver on the interstate just outside of Indianapolis. He died at the scene, before the paramedics arrived.
It wasn’t just any Sunday. It was Super Bowl Sunday — the biggest day in all of U.S. sports. After the big game was over, everyone was talking about a remarkable Philadelphia Eagles victory over Tom Brady and the Patriots, but in all the commotion there was barely a mention of the tragic loss of my brother.
A lot of sports fans didn’t even know he had been killed. And they definitely don’t know his story.
I owe it to my brother to remedy that right here and now.
I’m sharing his story because Edwin wanted his story to be told, and he loved telling it.
Most of all, though, I write for Edwin today because I want the rest of the world to get a chance to know my brother the way his family and loved ones knew him.
Edwin in His Youth
First off, let me just say: I am not a professional athlete. But I’ve played sports my entire life. My first love was basketball — as a kid, I read the sports section religiously and practiced my jump shot nightly in our driveway. So when my first younger brother, Edwin, came along when I was 10, I couldn’t wait to share with him my passion for sports.
Courtesy of the Jackson Family
Edwin soaked it all up like a sponge. He was always so eager to spend time with his big brother, and that made him a particularly quick study. Plus, he was a natural athlete — he was born ready. When Edwin was only four years old, I set up a mini basketball hoop next to my 10-foot goal in the driveway, and we played one-on-one. Even though he was just a little kid, I wasn’t easy on him. Our games were intense; partly because I was pushing him, but mostly because Edwin pushed back from a young age. He wanted to win, he was competitive and he didn’t like to lose.
At four years old.
I knew all along that he had a special athletic talent. But Edwin was so much more than that. He had a certain charisma about him that was infectious — a swagger, really. It was almost as if he knew he was special, too. He knew that he could do great things in this life.
As Edwin matured over the years, his confidence grew too. He wasn’t shy about letting the world know how special he was. His unofficial motto became: When in doubt … take your shirt off.
No matter what the circumstances were, no matter how high the stakes, he believed that in basically every sticky situation, removing his shirt was always the right thing to do.
Trying to impress a girl? Lose the shirt.
Had a tough day? Get that shirt off ASAP.
Can’t decide on what to eat for dinner? Try making the decision shirtless.
It was easier for him than most people, though. Even when he was a baby, my brother had a six-pack. He was basically just abs and a tiny head. I still remember meeting him for the first time after my parents came home from the hospital. I walked into his nursery and I was like, How does a newborn baby have this kind of physique? Can babies do sit-ups? This is all very unfair.
Edwin in High School
Edwin’s confidence and grace-under-fire attitude continued into his high school days. He and I (as well as our eight other siblings) attended Westlake High School, a football powerhouse in Southwest Atlanta. Cam Newton, Chance Warmack, Pacman Jones — all Westlake guys. Even though we had played so much basketball together growing up, Edwin chose to focus on football as he entered ninth grade, with the hopes of making it to the NFL. And although I was a bit disappointed, I knew that he could transfer all of his basketball skills over to the football field. Plus, he was a beast.
Edwin played for the Westlake football team, but he was far from a star. In fact, he barely saw the field. He played very little, and I honestly was kind of annoyed about that because I knew he just needed to be further groomed into the sport. Edwin was the most physically jacked person on the team, but somehow he was stuck on the bench.
That did not matter to my brother. Instead of pouting or neglecting to take the sport seriously, Edwin spent most of his extra time in the Westlake weight room and running miles in our Southwest Atlanta neighborhood. And, of course, he did those things shirtless.
Edwin in College
After graduating from Westlake in 2010, Edwin moved to the small college town of Statesboro, Georgia, to attend Georgia Southern University. Although he didn’t receive a scholarship coming out of high school, Edwin was determined to play college ball.
He tried out as a walk-on, and called me immediately after the tryouts.
“We were doing this sprint drill early on, and I seriously wasn’t even thinking,” Edwin said, sounding like he had bad news. “It just kind of happened.”
“I took my shirt off,” he replied, as if stating the obvious. “Two minutes later the linebackers coach took me aside and wrote down all my information … so I made the team.”
“Wait, he told you that you made the team right there?”
“No, but he didn’t have to,” Edwin said. “I know I made the team.”
“But how do you know for sure?”
“Bro. I told you. My shirt.”
Of course, he made the team.
Courtesy of the Jackson Family
Now, most walk-on players — your run-of-the-mill-type guys — they usually fizzle out after a year or two. It’s incredibly difficult to handle the high demands of being a student-athlete without the recognition and social notoriety that comes with being a scholarship athlete. Often, walk-on players work twice as hard in practice and rarely get any playing time. So it’s not surprising that some decide it’s not even worth it.
After Edwin’s freshman year, he started to feel the pressures that go along with being a walk-on, and he called me to get my thoughts on whether he should quit the team. I knew Edwin only needed the opportunity to show his talent and skill on the field, but he first would need to get the coaches to see him in a different light. He and I mapped out a plan that would give Edwin the best chance to be successful. We decided that he needed to do everything in his power to earn the coaches’ trust and receive playing time, so that he wouldn’t have any regrets. The plan was that Edwin would: be first in line for every drill in practice; be extremely loud, talkative and motivating with his teammates on the field and in the weight room; build relationships with his coaches by scheduling meetings with them and making sure they knew his goals; and treat every play as if it was the most important football play in the world, even if the coaches only put him in for one play a game. I told him to always remember that, as our dad often reminded us, “Somebody’s always watching you.” Edwin agreed to follow the plan and give it his all.
In addition to developing the plan, I arranged for Edwin to be trained by three of my former Westlake High School basketball teammates — Travis Booker, Sean Jones and Keyaron Fox — two of whom were playing in the NFL at the time. Since they were close friends of mine, they viewed Edwin as a younger brother and mentored him on how to properly train, play and carry himself as a professional. After a summer of intense training and thoughtful mentorship, my brother’s confidence soared.
Once Edwin returned to school the following fall, he frequently called to tell me the positive strides he was making since he had implemented the plan, and we would laugh about the way some people reacted to his new approach to the game.
“Why are you doing so much when you know you’re not going to play?”
“Calm down man. Stop running so fast.”
“It’s just one tackle, bro. Why are you so excited?”
Through it all, he just kept his head down and put in work.
Edwin’s big break came during the middle of his sophomore year when he was playing on special teams.
One day a visiting scout from the New England Patriots came to the school to watch film of some potential prospects, and he noticed this one play where Edwin bulldozed over two defenders on a kickoff to make a tackle.
“Wow, who the heck is number 40?” the scout asked. “That guy’s running down the field like his life depends on it.”
That’s all it took. One line from an NFL scout.
After practice that day, an assistant coach told my brother about what had happened, and Edwin excitedly called me to share the news.
“You’re not going to believe this, but a Patriots scout saw film of me, and he said he would be back to check on me during my senior year!”
Edwin was on a mission. And it turns out that the scout helped my brother’s coaches discover their diamond in the rough. Soon thereafter, Edwin got his first college start. We talked on the phone late on the night before the game. I remember him saying, “You know, I never even started in high school, and now I’m about to be a starting linebacker for a Division I school. This is crazy! It’s showtime, bro!”
See the thing about Edwin was … he was ready for that moment. Absolutely. He was prepared for the opportunity.
Edwin was so excited and pumped, and he took that energy and propelled his play to become one of the school’s premier players. He went on to lead the team in tackles his junior and senior years, posted a team-high 10 tackles in an upset win against a heavily-favored Florida Gators team, led his team to a Sun Belt Conference championship his senior year, and was named first-team All-Conference.
Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports
Edwin killed college. He loved his time at Georgia Southern, and the school loved him back. But there was always a bigger goal down the line for my brother: the NFL.
And all of a sudden he wasn’t the only one who believed he could make it.
Edwin in the NFL
By his senior year of college, Edwin knew he was ready for the next level and had worked to create a resume that would back him up. He had great pro day numbers, and impressive college stats and game film.
When he was training for the 2015 NFL draft, he would always say, “Man, I know there’s nobody out here working harder than me.” He was right.
The last day of the 2015 NFL draft was on May 2. Our family threw a big party at our parents’ house to be with Edwin for his big moment. Edwin and our entire family thought he had a real shot at getting drafted. But when the seventh round ended without his name being called, he just quietly went downstairs to be alone. Minutes after Mr. Irrelevant’s name was announced as the final pick, the Arizona Cardinals called and told Edwin they were going to sign him as a free agent. We all still celebrated, but I knew deep down that my brother was disappointed.
Edwin went to Arizona prepared to prove everybody wrong. He played well and earned the nickname “Pound Cake” after gifting the coaches some of our mom’s famous homemade cake, but he was released prior to the 2015 season. Just like that, Edwin had been counted out again. He was an unsigned, undrafted free agent. Teams were preparing for the regular season, and nobody was thinking about some free agent from Georgia Southern named Edwin Jackson.
When he returned to our parents’ home in Atlanta, our youngest sister, who was in ninth grade at the time, gave Edwin her bed to spare him from the family couch. So within the course of a few days, he went from being a potential NFL player to an unemployed adult sleeping in his teenage sister’s bed. A lot of people would have found that depressing.
He got a job running packages at UPS, and spent the rest of his time working out at the gym, running at the track and doing whatever he could to keep his mind occupied and his body in shape. He was up and out of the house every morning at four. He made sure my parents, our siblings, and all his friends in Atlanta knew that him being back was only a temporary thing.
Our family and friends continued to encourage Edwin during this time. “Stay ready, Edwin,” I would tell him. “Another team saw you when you were playing in Arizona. Somebody’s always watching.”
Others would say things like:
“I know you’re gonna get that call. These teams just don’t know what they’re missing.”
“You’re an NFL Player, stay at it.”
“Keep training, Edwin.”
Edwin would later tell me that comments like those helped keep him motivated during that trying time.
After a long three months, and with the 2015 NFL season slowly ticking away, Edwin returned home one night after an overtime shift and received a call from the Colts. They wanted to know if he could be on the next flight to Indianapolis for a workout.
Edwin started saying his goodbyes to us the second he got off the phone.
My brother knew that this was it. Not that it was his last chance … just that he wouldn’t need another one.
Our entire family rushed to the airport to see Edwin off. My mom brought a bottle of champagne and plastic flutes to toast. (Yes, we literally celebrated for a tryout.)
Courtesy of the Jackson Family
I think we all were as confident as Edwin. On paper, sure, it was just a private workout. But we knew Edwin. And if there was one thing that Edwin had a handle on, it was working out, putting on a show and being ready when an opportunity came his way.
So it was no surprise when Edwin impressed the coaches in Indy and they signed him on the spot. (Oh, and if you’re wondering whether Edwin took his shirt off during the tryout … of course he did.)
Edwin finished the remaining three games of the 2015 season on the Colts’ practice squad. When the 2016 season came around, he was ready for some game action.
The morning of the first preseason game against the Bills, my brother Henry and I picked Edwin up from the team hotel in Buffalo in our rental car. He was so excited so to see us. We had a rap session in the car, which we often did anytime we got together. Fortunately, we recorded it.
As I listen to Edwin’s rap now, it is remarkable to hear how determined he was to make his mark in the NFL.
Long time always hustling gotta be steady.
They said when you was lifting weights,
Were those things heavy?
I said they were, but what was heavier was my mind,
’Cause I know I gotta do this thing in amount of time,
And the amount of the grind, it never stays the same.
Tryna change up the game, while picking up some change$.
But do you understand, that it’s all in your brain?
When they see that thing on TV screen they see pain.
When Edwin got out of the car that day he said, “I’m ready.” And ready he was.
Go ahead and look up the stats. Check out who led the entire NFL in tackles in Week 1 of the 2016 preseason. My little brother Edwin did, with 10 tackles against the Bills. (Our rental-car freestyle was just what he needed to prepare!) He was hungry, no doubt! He was on a mission to show the world that he belonged.
After he made the Colts’ final roster, Edwin’s next challenge was to earn playing time. At the midway point of the season, the coaches gave him a shot. And that’s all my brother ever needed.
In Edwin’s first series at linebacker against the Tennessee Titans he made tackles on the first two plays, helping lead to a quick three-and-out for the defense after an incompletion. On the last tackle of that series, Edwin jumped up and gave an exuberant shout, throwing his fist in the air. He had arrived!
“Who is this dude?” people sitting near us in the stadium asked out loud. Nobody had ever heard of Edwin before, and suddenly there was this guy with blond locks jumping out of the pile and getting fired up after every play. Our family would respond loudly, “That’s Pound Cake!”
Edwin started for the remainder of the 2016 season. He proved to himself, and to all who were watching, that he was a legitimate NFL linebacker. Edwin led the Colts in tackles over the course of those remaining eight games, and ended up third on the team in tackles for the entire season, with 61. He sacked Alex Smith in his first start against the Chiefs, chased down Marcus Mariota for a sack in a close home win over the Titans, and made a huge behind-the-line-of-scrimmage tackle against the Jets’ Matt Forte on Monday Night Football. After the Forte hit, former NFL commentator (and now Raiders head coach) Jon Gruden shouted out to the national audience, “They nicknamed him Pound Cake because he will POUND YOU!”
His opponents were lucky Edwin wasn’t allowed to take off his shirt during those games.
I think one of the things that Edwin enjoyed most about playing in the NFL was high-fiving the fans at the end of each game. He really loved making the fans feel just as special and appreciated as they made him feel as a player.
Edwin in the Community
Edwin knew that his career in the NFL would not last forever. He never let himself forget that. Throughout everything — during the years he put in trying to make it to the NFL and achieve his dream — he said as soon as he got there he’d start giving back.
That’s why the kids loved Edwin.
After he made it to the NFL, he’d just show up to youth summer camps in Atlanta with Popsicles or ice cream. I’d go with him to help, and he’d have his Colts jersey on and all the kids would huddle around him while he’d pass out treats with a big smile on his face. He loved those kids so much. He’d always say that, seven or eight years earlier, he was one of these kids looking googly-eyed when our local stars would come back to visit. So there was no reason why any of them couldn’t make it to the NFL like he did, or achieve their dreams. All he wanted to do was inspire people and demonstrate the value of hard work and a supportive family.
A walk-on in college, an undrafted free agent in the NFL, a starting linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts. A professional player who knew his impact, and used it to help other people’s lives. That was Edwin. I wish with all of my heart that his story didn’t have to end there.
Edwin in Our Hearts Forever
For the rest of our lives, when my family sees or hears about football, we will think about Edwin Jackson. Not about how he was taken away, but about all of the joy he brought to us, and to the game. We’ll think about the infant with a six-pack, the four-year-old basketball hotshot, the guy who rode the bench in high school and made it to the NFL. We’ll think about hot Atlanta summers spent working out, the day that the Georgia Southern Eagles drained the Florida Gators’ Swamp, and those long overtime shifts at UPS. Our thoughts will go back to the bittersweet 2015 draft party, champagne flutes in the airport parking lot, and Mom’s pound cakes. We’ll think about rental-car freestyles. We’ll think about a LOUD AND PROUD Jackson family cheering squad being there every step of the way. We’ll recall the many conversations where we pushed each other to achieve our dreams. We’ll think about how we basked in the moment after those dreams were realized. We’ll think about a charismatic, energetic, passionate guy who always found a reason to take off his shirt — maybe because he wanted to show off a little bit, but most likely because that’s how willing he was to give his all to something. He wouldn’t let anything get in his way, not even his shirt. We’ll think about how hard Edwin worked at becoming better every day, and how proud we are of what he achieved in his short time on Earth.
Courtesy of the Jackson Family
Near the end of those summer camp visits, kids would gather around Edwin and start asking him all kinds of questions about playing in the NFL.
“What’s the first thing that goes through your mind after you deliver a big hit?” That’s the one question I think about the most. Edwin did not hesitate with his response.
“I think the same thing every time,” he said. “I think: I hope my brothers saw that!”
I take some comfort in knowing that, in moments when Edwin exemplified his greatness, his first thought was of his family. That even though he had made it to the league, he never forgot who he was and who he represented.
And of course we saw you, Edwin. Our whole family, and everyone you touched — we saw it all. Everything that you did, everything that you were — we couldn’t be more proud. And we promise to keep telling your story.