Before his electric varsity debut sparked a surprise quarterback competition, the last time Jackson Dart forced a coach to suddenly reconsider his plans for a quarterback was just 13 years old.
It was still several months since the start of his first year at Roy High School in Utah, when Dart first joined his new team in a 7v7 tournament. He did not face his teammates. He did not know offense. In addition, he was already late on arrival, having missed the first few baseball tournaments of the summer schedule.
Circumstances did not bode well for the skinny freshman even before he thought of moving up to a 6ft 3 man to compete with. But when Dart walked around the field on the first day, flashing the rocket with his right hand that eventually led him to USC, Fred Fernandez didn’t need much persuasion. Coach Roy High could then feel, as any other coach since then, would have known that competition could open up a new level in Dart – and by extension, everyone else around him.
For a while, Fernandez still retained the semblance of a quarterback struggle. But even before the end of the first tournament, he turned to Dart’s father, Brandon. “I can already tell that he will be our boyfriend,” he told him.
“It really wasn’t close to anyone’s eyes,” Fernandez now recalls. “Except maybe the other quarterback.”
Four years later, on a dynamic rainy day in Pullman, Washington last month, similar sentiment infiltrated the USC sideline, where the Trojans who had just fired their coach desperately needed a spark. They got more than they could have hoped for from Darth, who replaced the ailing Kedon Slovis and came to life, hobbling their way to 391 yards and four touchdowns even after injuring his knee. The game was so outstanding that acting coach Donte Williams immediately announced an open competition.
The injury ultimately robbed Dart of another opportunity to shake off the ingrained signaling caller in front of him, as the freshman underwent meniscus surgery just three days after his debut. A month later, as USC sat 3–3 after a goodbye week, Dart returned to training, but still has not received permission to contact. He remains day in and day out as of Thursday, two days before the decisive match against rival Notre Dame at the fork in the road.
But as the freshman gets closer to making a comeback, the same question remains: can a defender of the future USC still turn his present? Better yet, isn’t it?
Roy did not get away with this question without complications. The senior, who took over as a starter, was not very kind to the newcomer, who stole his job. Emotions ran high. Feelings were offended.
“They tried to get the county involved,” recalls Brandon Dart. “It wasn’t just that. He was ruthless to Jackson. “
While Dart held out in fierce competition, Brandon decided not to interfere. He was firmly convinced that his son should learn to navigate on his own. From an early age, Darts dragged his son into difficult situations requiring increased pressure, and forced him to understand them himself. They kept him in several sports to add as many stressful situations as possible, and they chose Roy High in part because they knew he would have to make money in an environment where he wasn’t. comfortable. They wanted him to be humiliated.
It was a huge challenge for the teenage quarterback. But Dart handled it calmly, never mentioning the tension between the two quarterbacks to his parents. Instead, he kept his head down and tried not to be distracted, quickly gaining the trust of his teammates.
It has always come naturally to Darth. His energy was infectious even at the age of 14. The coaches noticed that other players seemed to revolve around him. “He just had this innate ability,” Fernandez said. “I don’t even know how to describe it, but the guys just rallied behind him.”
Soon another defender left the team.
“I felt like I had to grow up very quickly,” Dart said of his first quarterback competition. “I’ve always treated other guys the same no matter what. But apparently I’m super competitive. I was looking at something. Sometimes this happens when you have the same goals and aspirations as someone else. “
Dart had even greater hopes for his junior season at The Swarm. After injuring his elbow in his sophomore year, he worked hard to get back even better. But by then, it was clear that Roy, with an attack based on the old-fashioned single wing, could not offer the high-flying fireworks required to lure the Power Five recruiters to Utah, a state that had only two of the best bystanders. prospects in the previous 10 years.
The decision to leave Roy, where he became close to Fernandez, was not an easy one. But in three seasons, Dart received almost no phone calls from the Power Five, let alone offers. Fernandez understood that he needed to leave in order to realize his impetuous potential.
Conversations began in December of that year, shortly after his junior season ended. However, Dart suffered from the move.
“This guy spent an hour trying to tell me he was moving,” Fernandez said. “But it was the best for him.”
Dart believed he was capable of more. He wanted something bigger, a wide-open attack that would allow him to thrive, and he found it in Corner Canyon, two-time state champion, an hour away. However, leaving Roy’s comfort meant moving in with his aunt and finding himself in a new situation, with new teammates and a new attack.
Then he will have to prove that he is the protector he considered himself to be.
“Jackson was betting on himself,” said Brandon Dart. “There were no guarantees. He had to speak. ”
It didn’t hurt that Corner Canyon, where New York Jets’ rookie striker Zach Wilson once played, lacked a clear starting quarterback. When Dart showed up, coach Eric Chiar said the transition went smoothly. He took over 90 percent of the reps almost immediately.
“Just seeing his ability was the most important thing,” Chiar said. “His teammates said, ‘Oh yeah, it will work.”
Everything seemed to fall into place. Then a pandemic began. It was suddenly unclear if Dart would get the chance to be in the spotlight he so desired. The family doubted they had made the right decision.
But Dart was determined. In the quarantine and danger of the season, he trained as much as he could, alone. Every few weeks, he and his father flew to Southern California to work with Taylor Kelly, John Beck and Adam Dedo at 3DQB, the famous quarterback training center in Huntington Beach, where the likes of Tom Brady and Drew Brees trained. Working alongside Wilson and other top-notch quarterbacks, it was clear to the coaches who worked with him that he just needed a season to get his offers.
“Would you watch him throw against some of these kids with big offers and you wonder how the hell he wasn’t picked up early?” – said the coach of “Corner Canyon” Eric Chiar. “Although he’s from Utah, I just didn’t get it.”
By the fall, the only major football program to generate interest was Brigham Young, located a little further down the road to Provo. But once Utah gave the green light to her high school season, Dart didn’t go unnoticed for long. He has five touchdowns in his debut match and one incomplete pass. The next week, he had over 500 attack yards and six touchdowns. The secret was revealed.
That all changed the following week in the game against Bingham, which aired on national television. In the run-up to the game, something like 17 Power Five employees told Dart they would be watching him closely.
“You came here for a reason,” Brandon told his son before the game. The pressure seemed to only fuel him. He made six touchdowns again, adding 132 yards on the ground.
After the game, Brandon took his son aside on the field and hugged him.
“Your life will change,” he told Dart. They spent the next day reviewing texts and direct messages from college coaches.
It all seemed surreal even when Dart arrived at the University of Southern California the following spring with the expectation that he would fight for a backup job. Immediately, the freshman drew attention to the field. Outside of that, teammates rave about his work ethic.
Towards the end of the spring, he told Fernandez that he had a new aspiration.
“He didn’t come to terms with the fact that he just went for a part-time job,” Fernandez recalled. “He wanted to come out on top.”
Dart may have already achieved this goal if his knee hadn’t buckled in the midst of the match against Washington State. Even on the injured meniscus, the energy he could summon from the USC attack was unlike anything the Trojans had seen in an entire season. After the game, center Brett Nylon raved about his “stunning” performance and happily compared him to Sam Darnold.
But that night, when the adrenaline slept, the pain in my knee increased. The next day, doctors told him they expected his recovery from meniscus surgery to take up to two months. So Dart intended to cut that time in half – if he can’t serve as quarterback, he agrees to play against the clock.
He’ll spend most of the next month going to rehab as much as possible, even scaling up his classes in between hours of treatment.
“It was really difficult to say the least,” Dart said. “I want to be there as much as possible. I just love being on the pitch, and especially just getting a taste of it in this Wazzu game, the atmosphere, everything else, it’s very exciting. I’m just trying to change my goals and my approach to everything, just work hard in a rehab clinic and try to stay on top of everything I can with football and my psychologists. I want to come back very quickly. “
This work made him well ahead of schedule. He still wears a bulky brace on his right knee, but his reps have slowly but steadily increased over the past week. While Slovis is expected to kick off in Notre Dame on Saturday, it looks like Dart’s return is just around the corner.
What this means for USC’s future plans for the quarterback remains to be seen. But if his past tells us something, the prospect of competition may be all Dartk needs to open up a new level – for himself and for USC.
It won’t be the first time.