Half-brothers Lamar and Jamarri Jackson have grown closer while starring at different schools
By JIM McCUE | Photos By JAMES K. LEASH
The family that plays together, stays together.
Despite never living together, Lamar and Jamarri Jackson have always strengthened their family ties through sports, especially football. And that bond has never been stronger than it is this year for two of the Sac-Joaquin Section’s most versatile athletes on the gridiron.
“We were close growing up, but we weren’t ‘brothers close,’” Jamarri said. “Football has brought us closer. “We got closer this past summer because we were working out together and preparing for this season. Now, we are true brothers.”
Lamar and Jamarri, half-brothers who share the same father, have also shared a passion and talent for football that has turned heads since they first put on pads. As both opponents and teammates in junior football in Sacramento, the Jacksons laid the groundwork to become high school stars who are now turning the head of college recruiters nationwide.
Lamar, a 6-foot-3, 205-pound two-way star, is one of the nation’s top recruits at defensive back. With the size and athleticism that has some comparing him to hybrid star Shaq Thompson — the 2012 Grant-Sacramento graduate who was the Carolina Panthers’ first-round pick this past April — Lamar has Division I programs looking at him to fill holes at cornerback, safety, and even considering him as a linebacker. With his list of possible college landing spots narrowed to 10, he is expected to announce his selection during the Under Armour All-America game in Florida in January.
“To be 6-foot-3 and be able to move like that is crazy, and he can lock you up,” Jamarri said of what earned his big brother serious interest from most of the top national college programs. “I think that, for sure, he can go play (in Division I) as a true freshman.”
The action in Division I is an adjustment for every player making the leap from high school to college football, but Lamar’s transition may include more on-field activity than he has seen much of his last two seasons at Franklin-Elk Grove.
“Sometimes I feel bad for him because he wants to help his team and no one really throws his way,” Franklin head coach Mike Johnson said. “He is a playmaker, but sometimes he does not get the opportunity to make plays.”
In order to get his most athletic player more involved in the action, Johnson has utilized him at multiple positions on both sides of the ball. Beginning Oct. 30, he’ll be taking more snaps at quarterback following an injury to starter Jacob Lopez.
“He is a guy we can put anywhere because he is that athletic and talented,” Johnson said. “We could put him on our offensive line this year and he might actually be one of our biggest guys.”
Size is the biggest differentiator between Lamar and Jamarri, and may be the lone factor that has kept the offers from flowing in for the little brother. Just a junior, Jamarri established himself as a force on both sides of the ball for Christian Brothers-Sacramento. In 2014, he eclipsed 1,000 yards rushing on offense, had seven interceptions on defense, and scored 22 total touchdowns in a variety of ways.
In the 2015 season opener, Jamarri picked up right where he left off with four scores by way of a reception, rush, pick-six and a punt return — and that was the first four times he touched the ball in the first half of the game. One of the Falcons’ captains, he dazzles at running back, wide receiver, defensive back and as a return specialist.
“Game in and game out he is consistent in all phases of the game,” Christian Brothers head coach Dan Carmazzi said. “He may not be as big as some guys, but he makes up for it with intangibles.
“We are kind of spoiled with him on our team because he does well in all aspects of the game and can help us out in any position or situation he is put in.”
Despite the versatility and play-making ability, the recruiters are not lining up for Jamarri like they have for Lamar. But Lamar is quick to play the role of big brother and keep things in perspective for Jamarri while preaching patience.
“I tell him all the time to just keep ballin’,” Lamar said. “All you need is to get that first offer, and then the others will come.”
The brothers have always been supportive of one another, but they admit that the competition as kids did get fierce. As frequent house guests at their paternal grandmother’s home in Elk Grove, the pair battled it out in all endeavors, but mostly in sports. Pick-up hoops in the yard were a family favorite, but the greatest competition came on the football field as they grew up.
Through it all, the competition usually yielded to Lamar and Jamarri just being kids and enjoying the time they got to spend together at grandma’s house.
“We competed, but we were mostly into having fun and being goofy kids,” Jamarri said. “It’s weird now because I never would have thought that we would be playing football at this level with him getting offers from everybody.”
The brothers may have inherited their football genes from their father, Lamar Jackson Sr., who was an athlete in his own right at Valley High in Sacramento. But the strong family bonds have been formed with the help of their mothers and home support systems.
Lamar’s mother, Catherine Horton, played a big role in her son’s recruitment by teaming up with Coach Johnson to get Lamar academically eligible. After missing out on football as a freshman due to grades, Lamar has turned his academic portfolio around to the tune of a better than 3.0 GPA that impressed colleges almost as much as his size and speed.
Jamarri was pushed academically by his mother and stepfather, Jasmine Thurman and Searcy Andrews, who enrolled him at Christian Brothers after they were impressed with the school’s curriculum in addition to the athletic programs.
While those choices never allowed the brothers to play together in high school — they played one year together as Junior Pee Wees on the Sacramento Raiders — they stayed in close contact and built their family relationship with the game.
“Even though they have different mothers, they always seemed to share an unbreakable bond that I couldn’t drive a wedge through,” said their father.
Dad tries to rotate Friday nights to attend both boys’ games equally, and often has his parents attend games opposite those on his schedule to provide additional family support in the stands and after the game.
Both Lamar and Jamarri understand and appreciate their genetic similarities —primarily their athleticism and versatility — while also embracing their differences. In addition to their physical differences in size, their personalities are unique. Lamar is the more stoic and reserved of the two and Jamarri is the enthusiastic one that wears his emotions on his sleeve.
Both will continue to make their own marks on the local high school football landscape before heading their separate ways to test their abilities at the next level. Regardless of how close or far away they end up in college and beyond, their father believes that the brothers’ special bond will not be broken.
“I always taught them to give 100 percent on the football field, but when it comes to (being a) brother, you give 110 percent,” Jackson Sr. said. “We believe in family first because football won’t last forever, but family will.”
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