Austin Jackson made a big sacrifice before his final season as an offensive lineman at USC.
Jackson's sister, Autumn, suffered Diamond Blackfan Anemia, a rare genetic disorder that prevents her bone marrow from producing red blood cells. She had battled the condition her entire life, but her treatment options began to diminish early last year. She needed a bone marrow transplant, which could only be accomplished by finding someone who matched a lengthy list of criteria for a blood match.
Jackson was a perfect fit. He didn't hesitate to go home in Arizona and wait for Autumn's body to be fit for the procedure, which requires weeks of rest and little physical activity. He also couldn't afford to get sick or else the procedure would be prolonged and Autumn's health would be more at risk.
For Jackson, however, the process was far from a sacrifice. It was a necessity.
"I feel like everyone would've done it for their little sister or sibling," Jackson said at this week's combine. "It was a lot of emotions. I was happy and excited, but most importantly, I just thank God. That was a miracle."
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The procedure was successful. Autumn continues to make a full recovery, and the transplant has given her body the ability to naturally produce blood again.
With his sister safe, Jackson turned his focus back to football in time for fall camp of his junior season. His strength from the procedure, which took place in his lower back, was diminished. He couldn't train for three weeks after the surgery and couldn't squat with weight until the fourth game of the season.
Jackson spent the majority of his season with the Trojans building back his physical skills and overall strength. He maintained his status as a top offensive lineman for the 2020 NFL Draft and is projected to be a late first-round selection.
But that's beginning to change. Jackson could generate momentum to move up as a projected top-15 pick with a strong showing this week at the combine, the perfect setting for Jackson to show how far he's come since he saved his sister's life.
"This is what I've been working for," Jackson said. "This has been my dream since I started playing football, and I'm ready."
Jackson is certainly on the Browns' radar. Cleveland needs to patch an offensive line that struggled throughout last season. With potential needs at both tackle positions, Jackson makes plenty of sense for the Browns.
A good combine performance will make it even more likely that Jackson is a reasonable pick for Cleveland. The draft class is packed with quality offensive tackles, and the Browns should have a shot at grabbing a top-three tackle with their 10th pick.
Jackson might not quite be in that mix yet — NFL Network's Daniel Jeremiah bumped him up to the fourth best tackle and No. 27 overall Monday in his Top 50 draft prospect list. But Jackson has only continued to ascend since he gave Autumn a life-changing gift. He changed her life, and she's also inspired him to push forward to his NFL dream, too.
"She's been through a lot," Jackson said. "All these opportunities that I have, she's never had due to her condition. But she just keeps going."
So, too, will Jackson.