MARY WING stood in the wings at Las Lomas High on Wednesday as her grandson Diante Jackson announced one of the most important decisions of his life: He was going to attend and play football at the University of Oregon after all.
"It's a great day," Mary said as she watched the proceeding. "I love it ... and I really love the idea that he's going to Oregon."
Don't think that Mary's preference, in the end, didn't weigh very heavily with Colorado, Arizona State and Oregon all pretty much neck-and-neck on the eve of signing day. That's because the most important decision in Jackson's life actually came more than five years ago, when Mary and Diante's mother, Kimberly Rogers, made the very tough decision to move Diante from Oakland to Walnut Creek — separated from his three brothers — to live with his grandparents.
Diante was 12 at the time. He was struggling academically and occasionally skipping school altogether. His family was at wit's end until, as Jackson put it, "I was very fortunate to come out here and be rescued by my grandma."
We'll never know what might have happened had the family elected to keep Diante in Oakland, but suffice it to say it's unlikely Jackson would have become the East Bay's most highly sought-after recruit (21 scholarship offers) and a young man who is now as focused on his academics as his wide receiving skills.
"I was having a hard time in Oakland," he said. "My mom worked as hard as she could, but it was tough for her with four boys. I love my mom to death and I love my grandma to death, but they both came to an agreement to let me come out here because it would give me better education and a better environment. It's the best thing that's ever happened to me."
Added Mary, "With three other kids, his mother just really couldn't take the time to support him in sports like me and my husband could."
Jackson's grandmother enrolled him at Walnut Creek Intermediate School, where he received more attention to correct his learning issues, and he subsequently went on to Las Lomas, where he gained an important father figure in coach Doug Longero. Longero readily admits he had a much closer connection with the wide receiver and his family than the standard coach-player relationship, and that bond only grew tighter as the recruiters started to pour onto the scene.
"He played college football and he's been there before, so he knows how coaches can sell a kid like a car salesman and talk a kid into anything," Jackson said.
In a story now well documented, Jackson gave an oral commitment to Oregon last year, then decommitted. For a time, it appeared he was almost certain to commit to Colorado or Arizona State. So Wednesday's signing ceremony in the school quad had some drama to it, even though a paper banner hanging behind Jackson's head gave it away before his announcement with the scribble "Go Ducks."
"He still hadn't made up his mind until last (Tuesday) night," Longero said. "And the calls have been nonstop. They were coming until about an hour ago."
It was in the final hours that Diante may have heard the whispers of his grandmother and mother speaking to him, even though they both were adamant they would let Jackson make his own choice and support him regardless.
"He finally called me and said, 'Mom, I just realized I want to go to Colorado but Oregon is the best place for me to be,'" Kimberly Rogers said.
With that rationale in mind, is there any wonder that recruiters woo parents and grandparents as much as the recruit? Both Kimberly and Mary said that for the past two years, their mailboxes have been inundated with brochures, packets, flyers, tapes and assorted other flattering materials. The phones rang constantly, particularly after Jackson initially decommitted from Oregon. They're both glad it's over.
But it's important to note that when Diante made his visits to his final three schools, his mother and grandmother accompanied him. While Jackson was off visiting football facilities, Mary was elsewhere on campus doing her own background checks.
"I met with academic advisers when I went to Eugene, and I was very impressed," she said. "At that point, I was willing to go along with whatever school that he decided to go to, but I'm so glad it was Oregon."
Longero didn't tip his hand but seemed very satisfied with Jackson's choice, as well. In the process, he paid homage to Mary Wing and her role in getting Diante pointed in the right way.
"The grandmother's been a savior for everybody involved," he said.
You can bet Ducks coach Mike Bellotti has uttered a Hail Mary or two himself the past few days.
Contact Carl Steward at (510) 293-2451 or firstname.lastname@example.org.