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UA All-America Game: Domani Jackson gets a moment to breathe

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - When Domani Jackson finally got settled here for the Under Armour All-America Game, he and close friend and five-star cornerback Will Johnson headed for the pool.

It was a long journey for the five-star cornerback from Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei, who signed with USC over Alabama during the Early Signing Period after it looked like the Crimson Tide would land him following an earlier decommitment from the Trojans.

“I was talking to Will and I said, ‘I need this,'" Jackson said. “We were over there laid out in the pool drinking our milkshakes and I said, ‘Yeah, bro, I needed this before college.’”

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For Jackson, an early commitment and a subdued recruitment afterward turned into a hectic wild ride.

The five-star cornerback committed to USC in late January. For months everything was fine but then-coach Clay Helton got fired and there was major uncertainty about assistant coach Donte Williams’ future and the direction of USC’s program. Jackson decommitted in November.

Alabama then entered the picture, and Jackson admitted this week that during his trip to Tuscaloosa this season he committed to the Crimson Tide. But then Lincoln Riley shockingly took the USC job, Williams was retained on staff and things changed once again.

“It’s a wild rollercoaster, man,” Jackson said. “I was stressing the last two weeks. Like the last day and everything I was like, ‘Mom, I don’t know what I’m going to do.’ I was just going through it. I was contacting everybody I could contact and just reaching out to everybody. I just had to make my final decision. I went with my gut and we’re about to turn things around.”

Jackson went with his gut and soaked in a lot of conversations, too. He traded texts with former Alabama cornerback Patrick Surtain, a first-round NFL Draft pick by the Denver Broncos. He talked extensively with Alabama QB Bryce Young, a former Mater Dei teammate and Eli Ricks, also a former high school teammate who was transferring out of LSU and looking at USC and Alabama as well. Ricks ended up with the Crimson Tide.

Jackson didn’t.

“Patrick Surtain actually texted me from Alabama,” Jacksons aid. “He told me the real. Bryce we talked every day. Elias, we talked. It just came down to the school isn’t going to do it for me, it’s what I’m going to do for the school. It’s for me, so I’m going to prove myself wherever I go.

“Bryce wasn’t even saying, ‘Come to Alabama.’ Just what’s best for me. Do whatever your gut says and follow through. I committed to Bama when I was there. I told (Nick) Saban a day later. I came back home and thought it was the spot for me, but things change.”

If Riley wasn’t hired at USC, if Williams was not retained, Alabama would have probably been the spot for the five-star cornerback. USC just needed direction. Kids just needed to find a reason to go there again.

Over multiple visits back to USC now with Riley in charge, Jackson found what he was looking for. Finally.

“I’m not going to bash on the old coaching staff, because I love Clay Helton,” Jackson said. “I just think it was more like everybody was nonchalant about everything. The energy changed at SC when I went out there the last two times and they’re about their business. They are already changing the whole weight room and stuff like that.

“I’m more of a guy where I need people next to me that can push me and make me better. I don’t always want to be the best guy, but I am the best guy. I just want to be pushed every day.”