DeKALB – When Frisman Jackson arrived on the Northern Illinois campus as a freshman in 1997, the Huskies were coming off a 1-10 season in Joe Novak’s first year as head coach.
That year, NIU lost its final seven games. It was also the school’s last year in the Big West Conference before joining the Mid-American Conference, a league it left after the 1985 campaign.
In ’97, Jackson earned the starting quarterback job as a freshman, but NIU went winless.
“It was pretty bad,” said Jackson, now the Huskies’ first-year receivers coach.
The Huskies went on to lose their first five games of the 1998 season before beating Central Michigan on Oct. 17. The victory ended a 23-game losing streak, which was the longest in the country.
When Jackson was named NIU’s receivers coach after the 2011 season, the program he once called his own had done a complete 180. Joining a team that is coming off a MAC championship and bowl victory, Jackson now is part of a program that has the longest winning streak in the country at nine games.
It’s a long way from the lean years in the late 1990s Jackson experienced. Seeing how far NIU has come is only one reason Jackson jumped at the chance to head back to DeKalb when head coach Dave Doeren gave him the opportunity.
“I went through my growing pains as a player. Just to see these guys walk around and how much pride they take in it, the excitement that this program’s created in the town and the city of Chicago, it’s just amazing,” Jackson said after Thursday’s practice. “And across the country, I mean people know Northern Illinois University now.
“Before, they knew us for the longest losing streak in the country. Now they know about us for the longest winning streak in the country. So, it feels good to be on the opposite end of it.”
Jackson transferred to Western Illinois after the 1999 season when the coaching staff wanted to switch him to receiver. He ended up playing receiver with the Leathernecks anyway, and played the position with the Cleveland Browns from 2002-06 after signing as an undrafted free agent.
He said he left DeKalb on good terms with Novak, and said the two have talked over the years.
“I left on a good relationship,” Jackson said. “Just didn’t work out here. Things happened.”
In 2008, Jackson began his coaching career at the other school he played at, Western Illinois, where he coached receivers. After two seasons there, he went to the MAC and coached the same position at Akron for two years.
In addition to his coaching duties with the Huskies, Jackson also recruits the Chicago Public League – which he’s familiar with after playing at Morgan Park High School – Detroit and Indianapolis. He recruited some of those same areas at Akron.
Jackon’s experience at NIU and his knowledge of the Chicago area is only one reason Doeren wanted him on his staff. Jackson said a lot of the Public League coaches from his Morgan Park days still are there. He even went back to help out at his alma mater when he was in the NFL.
Using his playing career in teaching his current crop of wideouts, he tells them to “seize the moment,” that football doesn’t go on forever and players need to take advantage of it while they can.
NIU senior receiver Perez Ashford said Jackson is good with the little details of being a receiver – different releases, using your hands on a release.
“Things you might not learn in high school or college, and he definitely brings that down to us,” Ashford said. “That definitely helps us.”
Ashford also said his position coach is never short on energy out on the field, no matter when it is.
“He’s always amped. It can be before practice, pregame warming up, or even after when we’re breaking down ready to get off the field,” Ashford said. “He’s always got energy.”