It won't be the first time Bennett Jackson will be wearing green and white in New Jersey when he takes the field with the Jets on Sunday to kick off the new NFL season.
Growing up in Hazlet, NJ, Jackson was strapping on his pads and putting his Raritan Rockets jersey over them for years. He was a star at the high school, making tremendous plays on both sides of the ball and wowing the crowd while he did so.
Many would flock to watch "Benny Brax" or "B-Jax," as he was affectionately known, ball out under the Friday Night Lights back then, so you can imagine the type of turn out he's going to get at MetLife Stadium.
"I'm probably going to have about 200 people there," Jackson told SNY laughing. "I've already gotten screenshots of about 100 people with custom jerseys made."
Now this sounds like a familiar story: a kid returns to his hometown state to see the love and support from his family and friends, as he begins his professional career.
It's so much more than that.
See, Jackson graduated from Raritan in 2009, and would go on to have a solid four-year career at Notre Dame. He was named a captain during his time there, and even saw a national championship game appearance in his senior season in 2013 where the Irish unfortunately lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide.
After that season, the 6-foot, 192-pound cornerback (at the time) was preparing for the 2014 NFL Draft. He was a Day 3-projected player, and that's exactly where he went. To another hometown team.
The Giants took Jackson in the sixth round, 187th overall, and it couldn't be more perfect. But it was far from it.
Jackson wouldn't make the Giants' roster out of training camp, but they did bring him back to the practice squad. And during one of his first practices in that unit, Jackson suffered what would be the first of many injuries to come, a knee injury that required microfracture surgery to fix.
Then, in 2015, the Giants decided to try Jackson at safety. The transition was a clean one, and with a slew of injuries thinning out the supply of players at that position, Jackson was actually lined up to start at free safety next to rookie Landon Collins.
That is until he tore his ACL in the fourth quarter of the second preseason game against the Jaguars.
"It was the sh--tiest time that I had in my life. Forget my career -- my life," Jackson said. "But honestly I use it as a learning experience.
"Looking back at it, half the time I knew everything happens for a reason. Maybe it wasn't my time. Clearly, it wasn't my time to [play] yet. It was an incredible opportunity and I worked my whole life up to that point, but things play out the way they're supposed to even if we don't understand it."
He didn't understand at the time, but Jackson admitted he didn't think his NFL journey was over. After not feeling 100 percent in 2016 in his third year with the Giants, the team let him go for good. That left Jackson searching for a new employer for well over a year, but he continued to work in hopes that someone would come calling. Jackson said he was "crushing my workouts," and his trainers were noticing that he looked good.
"I just need a shot and I knew that," he said.
The Ravens would come calling when the 2017 season ended, and Jackson finally had his shot. Too bad the injury bug still didn't want to leave.
He was having a great training camp in his eyes, with Jackson saying "I was rolling." Then, he suffered a sports hernia that put him right back on the IR. That's three straight injuries in three separate preseasons, and Jackson simply couldn't catch a break.
So what kept him going? It was that 2015 season where he knew he was about to break through, and even though it didn't happen, almost getting there fueled him.
"I tasted the top," Jackson said emphatically. "I had it and had it all taken away from me. So I looked at it as 'Hey, I'm different than all these other guys that haven't been what I've been through. They maybe don't appreciate everything like I do.'"
Once again, Jackson got back to the drawing board, strengthening his body for another season with Baltimore bringing him back. What resulted -- finally -- was an entire preseason full of health and great play. Jackson's first preseason game this season saw four tackles and an interception that he took back for 13 yards. Overall, he had nine tackles and felt as if he coverage skills were on point, enough to be considered for the Ravens' roster.
Man what a time!! Grateful for the opportunity love my bros & coaches. But I'm not done yet. Gods Hands. 🙏 pic.twitter.com/iDesuzoQc2- Bennett Jackson Jr. (@B_Jax2) August 31, 2019
However, they let him go. But the Jets were quick to pounce.
"I had an amazing camp in my eyes," Jackson said. "Everybody doesn't see what goes on day-to-day. They just see the games. But I was having an amazing camp, felt like my feet were way underneath me and I could take that step to be the player I wanted to be. And, hey, one door closed and another opened."
Jets GM Joe Douglas has been adding depth to his secondary since he took over, with Marcus Cooper and Nate Hairston also brought in. He and the rest of the staff over at One Jets Drive clearly liked what the 27-year-old Jackson put on film, and claimed him off waivers.
And Jackson didn't even find out from the Jets themselves.
"To be honest with you, I was hoping that I was going to get claimed," Jackson explained. "I put together a pretty good preseason and when I was sitting in the Ravens' draft room just waiting to find out, one of my buddies actually called me - he's a big Jets fan - and he started freaking out on the phone. Like 'Man, why am I seeing that you're going to the Jets. What aren't you telling me?' I was like 'What the hell are you talking about?' I didn't know nothing yet.
"I was juiced man. I was juiced up."
His new teammates, specifically safeties Jamal Adams and Marcus Maye, have embraced Jackson in the few days he's already been there. Another claimed player in CB Matthias Farley is also a familiar face given their time together at Notre Dame.
"Any questions I have, they answer," he said. "They lead by example, which is huge. Everybody pushes each other. We got a good group of guys and I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what we do this season. We're definitely on the right path right now."
And Jackson is finally on the right path. He's hit his fair share of bumps along the way, too many for some to endure in their careers. It has been the definition of a grind to get back fully healthy and to have the courage to sacrifice his body once again to achieve his NFL dream.
But that's what it takes to make it in this league, one that is extremely unforgiving for so many roster hopefuls. Jackson knew his time wasn't done, and for others that may be in his place as well, he has some words of advice.
"You can't cheat hard work," he said. "You're going to get what you put into it. It took me way longer than I expected. ...It's tough but I just had faith in myself and dug deep."
Those 200 or so people that will fill the seats at 1 p.m. on Sunday to watch Jackson face the Bills have also stayed optimistic through it all. You could hear the sincerity in Jackson's voice when he said "I got the best support system I could possibly ever ask for."
It's been a culmination of five long, tiring years that will come to fruition when that No. 32 jersey -- his new green and white threads -- will be pulled over his pads on gameday. If Jackson touches the field, it will be his first regular season game played.
Don't think that's the top for Jackson, though. Battling back from the ground up has engrained this constant sense of getting better each and everyday. That's exactly what he wants to do with the Jets.
He will be sure to take a step back, though, and breathe in that moment he's on the sideline with his new brothers. It's a big leap in Jackson's career, but there's more work to be done.
"It's definitely one of my life-long goals I'll be able to check off the list," Jackson said. "I'm sure it's going to be an amazing feeling, but I got a ways to go. It's definitely something that's amazing to me and my family and friends. But I got a lot of things I want to get done here and that's just another step on the way up.
"I have the same goal in mind: I want to be the best free safety I can be. I want to be the best teammate I can be first, though. I want to help the team any way I can."