LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) — Justin Jackson had just one question for Nebraska's coaches when they asked him last winter if he would be willing to change positions for a third time.
"I asked them if I had an opportunity to play," he said.
Of course, they told him — if he earned it.
That's all he needed to hear. Jackson agreed to move from defensive tackle to center and competed against two more experienced players in spring practice and fall camp. He appears to have won out.
Coach Bo Pelini put Jackson on scholarship two weeks ago and said the fifth-year senior is the front-runner for the starter's job in Saturday's opener against Southern Mississippi.
"It would mean the world to me," Jackson said.
Jackson is the quintessential Nebraska walk-on. He grew up 20 minutes south of Memorial Stadium in Roca, Neb. He turned down scholarship offers from FCS and Division II programs to follow his dream of playing for his beloved Big Red. He was Pelini's first walk-on, in 2008, after he earned all-state honors in Nebraska's second-largest high school division.
"I don't consider myself a second-rate athlete because I walked on," Jackson said. "I just took a different road than other people. I never sold myself short and never expected anything less than perfection from myself. Did I reach it? Definitely not. I have yet to put together a perfect practice out here. But I strive for it and work for it."
Jackson's determination has not gone unnoticed by teammates. Several fellow walk-ons told him that his perseverance inspired them to work harder.
Jackson's career floated in limbo until this year.
He sat out as a redshirt in 2008 and appeared in mop-up duty on the defensive line in a total of three games in 2009 and '10.
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