Texas A&M football coach Larry Jackson shares LDS conversion story
Editor's note: This article by Andrew Devey originally appeared on Aggieland Mormons. It has been republished here with permission.
At the beginning of their third season in the Southeastern Conference, the Texas A&M University football team once again has the world of college football talking. The team's surprise road win last week against No. 9 ranked South Carolina ended the Gamecocks’ 18-game home winning streak — the longest in college football. The Aggies have found a formula for success in the toughest football conference in the country, and nothing seems to be slowing them down.
Alongside head coach Kevin Sumlin, one person making an impact on the Texas A&M University football team is strength and conditioning coach Larry Jackson. Respectfully nicknamed “Black Death” by his players for the extreme workouts that push even the most conditioned players to their limits, Jackson is credited with fostering a culture of discipline, rigor and strength that has allowed the Aggies to compete with the biggest teams in college football.
Larry Jackson has coached some of the best football talent in the world, including Heisman winners Johnny Manziel and Jason White, as well as NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. However, if they were to see Jackson on a Sunday afternoon at his local church congregation, they might not recognize him.
Instead of lifting weights or commanding his players to push themselves harder, Jackson, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, can be found worshipping with his family and carrying his daughter’s Hello Kitty tote bag. It is a different persona for a man who occupies a high-stress job in the intense world of college football.
When head coach Kevin Sumlin came to Texas A&M from the University of Houston, he brought Jackson with him and called him the most important hire.
Jackson puts in some of his most critical work during the offseason and summer months, when he pushes players to their limits in every workout so they can finish each game strong in the fall. Because of his specialty, Jackson often spends more time with the athletes than do the other coaches on the staff.
“I get to lead boys and teach them how to be men. Now I know what I was sent here for,” Jackson said. “I have a strong presence with some of the hardest young men, and I feel I was sent here to help those young men find their way in life and understand what the meaning of this life is.”
Jackson relies on his experiences as a former player, coach and father to help him show his players the proper way to live their lives.
“I was once them, which is why I understand it. I don't hammer those guys with it, but they can tell with my actions,” Jackson said. “I try to sit down with them and give them a clear explanation (that) they are supposed to do certain things and act a certain way.”
Jackson’s discovery of the meaning of life started as a kid growing up in Rockdale, Texas, where he attended church services every Sunday with family from a young age and gained a vibrant faith in Jesus Christ as his personal Savior. There were six different Baptist congregations that met in town, and his family attended the one next door to their home because it was the closest.
“I grew up, went to church, and did the things I was supposed to, but there were always these little, small questions I had all the time. I had questions about religion, Jesus Christ, where do we come from, what do we believe, why are we here. All the questions you hear in movies,” Jackson said.
Upon graduating from high school, Jackson received a football scholarship to play for Texas A&M. There, Jackson became a standout linebacker and defensive end from 1991-94. During his time as a member of the Wrecking Crew defense, the Aggies recorded a 42-2-1 record, three Cotton Bowl appearances and never lost a game at Kyle Field.
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