Blood, sweat and tears

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Willliam Jackson meets the press Friday at Paul Brown Stadium.

This time, the horse had left the barn.

Judy Johnson, William Jackson's grandmother, couldn't stop crying Thursday night. Not after the Bengals took him with the 24th pick. She has seen him play nearly every game he's ever played, starting with the Fifth Ward's Finnigan Park Falcons and she just couldn't stop.

"He tried to console me," she said Friday. "But the more he hugged me, the more I cried. I had to leave. If I had stayed I just would have kept on crying."

How things have changed. From the time he was six weeks old to until he started to go to school at six years old, William lived with Judy. Even when he moved in with his mother about five minutes away, he still went to her house as a little kid on weekends. Why not? One of the things they did was ride horses together at his uncle's place that had 10 horses.

"His mother would have to circle Friday on the calendar on Thursday," Judy recalled. "And every time I brought him back home, he cried. It would get so if we were out shopping and I was driving, when I turned down a certain street he would know I was taking him home and he would start crying."

There has been a family loyalty ever since in Ward Five, a tough, blue-collar spot of Houston that has been described as lower middle class. One time when Jackson was all-district on both sides of the ball at Wheatley High School, he saw his grandmother walking by the high school on the day of a game.

"He asked me what I doing and I said I was going to buy tickets for the game," Judy said. "He said, "Grandma, it's too cold.' And I said, 'Are you playing tonight? If you're playing, I'm going.'"

She's still ready. She'll be in Houston for the Christmas Eve game the Bengals play the Texans. She'll be in Dallas. After that?

"I told him wherever he got drafted, I'd go to the games if he sent me money," she said.

He probably will. It was that same kind of loyalty that made Jackson stay home and not go to Chicago to the draft with the other first-rounders. He hosted about 20 family members and friends at a Houston hotel Thursday night.

When he arrived in Cincinnati for his news conference Friday, he admitted he hasn't been away from home very much. By his side was his agent, hometown Houstonian Kennard McGuire, best known in Cincinnati as the agent for Akili Smith and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

David Gibbs found out something else on Thursday. Gibbs, now the defensive coordinator at Texas Tech, had been Jackson's coordinator at the University of Houston for two years and when they talked on the day of the first round, he discovered Jackson was 18 hours short of a degree, remarkable, he felt for a guy who came out of high school as a non-academic qualifier and started his college career at Trinity Valley Community College.

"It's a reachable goal," Gibbs said. "And the fact he's talking about it on the day he's drafted speaks volumes about the kid."

He has William Jackson Jr. to thank for that. His father. And Judy's son. When William III began struggling in school and hanging with the wrong crowd, his father brought down the hammer and got his academic life in order. It was natural for his father because had done it himself in blue-collar fashion.

"My son started out in a store as a bagger and worked his way up to cashier," Judy Johnson said. "He told me he wanted to go to school for air conditioning and now he runs his own company."

On Friday at Terrell AC & Heating, William Jackson Junior couldn't talk. He was working meeting clients, but admitting he was, "basking in the glow."

It is that blue-collar approach and family loyalty, good old-fashioned intangibles, mixed with a stunning brew of God-given gifts that makes Gibbs think the Bengals have hit it.

"I'm a conservative guy. I think he's a safe pick," said Gibbs, the ultimate compliment by a veteran of three teams and nine years as an NFL secondary coach in Denver, Kansas City, and Houston. "He's got the skill set everyone is looking at for corner. He's  long ,he's fast, he's got great ball skills. It's hard to find those guys in high school and college because they're playing wide receiver. To have a guy that can actually run with 6-3 and 6-4 receivers and to be able to make a play on the ball is rare."

And at 6-1, 195 pounds, Jackson, Gibbs believes, has an endless ceiling. "Unlimited potential," he calls it. He just hasn't practiced or played much as other first-rounders. Gibbs recalls Jackson didn't get to Houston until August of 2013, so he missed that spring practice, and he didn't become a starter until late that year.

"He's got tremendous upside," Gibbs said. "I think he's going to get better as this thing goes. I coached Champ Bailey and Deltha O'Neal in Denver before he went to Cincinnati. They had great ball skills, but I don't know that they had his length. I'm not saying he's a better player than those guys. He's got the same ball skills and he's long and he's really fast. That's what the one question was heading into the draft. How fast was he? I've seen very few people run by."

The only one who seems to have his number is Judy Johnson. "Number One Fan," is what pops up on William Jackson III's phone when it is her. At 68 and retired from being a cashier at IKEA, she just had surgery on both ankles, so she no longer rides the trails with him. But he's been riding since he was five.

""I remember I used to cry when she would take me off. That's stuck with me since,"  William Jackson said.

 Now things have changed.

"I guess," Judy said, "he's left the crying to me."

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