Jamacia Jackson was the court jester in the South Carolina locker room — the player teammates leaned on when they needed a laugh or a pick-me-up before practice.
They could have used one Monday.
The USC football family reacted with shock and remorse as word spread through text messages and voice mails that Jackson had been found dead early Monday morning at his girlfriend’s home in Sumter.
He was 26.
The Sumter County coroner’s office will perform an autopsy today to determine the cause of death. Sumter police chief Patty Patterson said authorities do not suspect foul play.
Jackson, a Shrine Bowl member from Sumter High who played safety at USC from 2001-04, was living in his Sumter hometown while preparing for his second season with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats in the Canadian Football League.
Patterson said emergency crews responded to a call about 5 a.m. Monday after Jackson’s girlfriend awoke to a loud noise and found him unconscious on the floor beside the bed. Jackson was transported to the Tuomey Regional Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead an hour later.
Patterson said authorities believe Jackson might have been drinking Sunday evening, but they found no evidence of drugs.
Family members were trying to reach Jackson’s stepbrother, Larry Holmes, a member of the Army stationed in Iraq, before finalizing funeral arrangements.
Cleo Jackson said the death of her stepson seems unreal.
“He was just bubbly one day and gone the next,” she said. “I’m looking for him to come through the door with some foolishness.”
That would have been in character for Jackson, who was remembered by his USC teammates for his sense of humor and positive energy.
“If you was having a down day or going through something, if you was around Jamacia at any time during that day, I can guarantee he would make you smile,” former Gamecocks quarterback Dondrial Pinkins said. “You couldn’t be down around him. He was the type of person to lift your spirit.”
Jackson served as the “Sandman” at the Gamecocks’ annual freshman talent show. Wearing a helmet and shoulder pads with a dress shoe on one foot and a cleat on the other, Jackson would use a broom to sweep bad acts off the stage.
Jermaine Harris, a USC safety, said Jackson drove around campus in a 1986 Cadillac he bought used for $500. After the car was towed his senior year, Jackson went to the impound lot and discovered it would cost $800 to reclaim it.
“He told the pound people, ‘Just let me get my stuff out of the car; y’all can keep the car,’” Harris said.
Seattle Seahawks linebacker Lance Laury, who played with Jackson on the USC defense, said Jackson had his own language that included funny, made-up words such as “sclootch.”
Asked the meaning of the word, Laury said, “Anything he wanted it to mean.”
But Laury said Jackson knew when to dial up the intensity. He started all 11 games as a senior at USC. He returned an interception 98 yards for a touchdown against Vanderbilt and finished third on the team with 59 tackles.
“Anyone would love to play with him because he has so much heart and character. And that’s what you need on a team — someone to keep you pumped up,” Laury said. “He’d be in the locker room, running around and jumping and screaming. I’m ready to play then and there and the game ain’t until an hour later.”
Jackson continued to play after leaving USC.
He signed a free-agent contract with the Tennessee Titans in 2005 but was waived during training camp. He spent a year on the practice squad with Montreal of the CFL and was in camp with the Berlin Thunder of NFL Europe in 2006.
Jackson was in Columbia working with Coca-Cola last year when the Tiger-Cats called. Playing outside linebacker and special teams, the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Jackson had a dozen tackles in 12 games in 2007.
He had been lifting weights at Sumter High getting ready for the season.
“Jamacia was a beloved player, teammate and friend,” Hamilton coach Charlie Taaffe said in a release. “He will be truly missed by our entire team. Our sincere condolences are with Jamacia’s family and friends.”
Those friends and family members were grieving Monday.
When Harris heard the news, he called Jackson’s cell phone hoping he would answer. Andre Gause, who lived with Jackson for four years at USC and worked with him at Coca-Cola, said he feels like he lost a family member.
“When I got the call this morning telling me Jamacia had passed, I felt like it wasn’t for real. But it’s real,” Gause said. “I will always remember him as being a brother to me. We’ve been through a lot.”
Reach Person at (803) 771-8496.