West Forsyth’s Desmond Jackson signs NLI to play football at North Carolina

Published 2:15 pm Wednesday, December 20, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For Clemmons Courier

CLEMMONS — Desmond Jackson knew this past summer where he was going to sign to play college football, but that didn’t mean there weren’t any bumps in the road along the way.

Jackson, a 6-foot-5, 290-pound offensive lineman from West Forsyth, signed this National Letter of Intent with North Carolina Wednesday morning at the Anderson Performing Arts Center on the West Forsyth campus.

Dec. 20-22 of this year has been set aside for high school seniors, who play football, to be able to sign early so that they can attend their respective college choice in January. Jackson graduated from West Forsyth last Friday.

“It’s just been trying to put everything together, a lot of preparation, and it’s a lot in the thought process,” Jackson said. “I’m just glad that I’m able to sign early and stuff, just to get it out of the way. A lot of people don’t get this opportunity. I’m just thankful for it.”

On the stage Wednesday morning, Jackson, who is a three-star recruit, according to 247sports.com, sat alongside his father, Roderick, mother Kimberly, and 27-year-old brother, Raphael.

Jackson, who grew up a Duke fan, picked North Carolina over Louisville, Duke, Appalachian State and East Carolina.

“In the end Carolina was like the right school for me,” he said. “I got to visit a lot of times and, you know, it just felt like the right thing. Every time I went there, I came back, and I felt like this is my home.”

Jackson’s mother was diagnosed with a rare blood disease this past summer.

“She (mother) got diagnosed with a blood disorder,” Jackson said. “She got, I forgot what it’s called. It’s an autoimmune disease. She was battling with it at first, and then it was like a block in the road. She suffered from septic shock in the middle of like her treatment, so it kind of set us back, but now she’s back and she’s doing good.

“She was able to walk. She couldn’t walk at first. We had to get her back to rehab. To be able to do a bunch of stuff.”

Kimberly Jackson’s illness has been trying for the family.

“Since June I’ve been in and out of the hospital,” she said. “I’ve been taking chemo and steroids. And yeah, it’s been tough because I’ve been in ICU.”

She has what’s called HLH, which is short for Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis. According to hopkinsmedicine.org, NLH is “a rare disease that usually occurs in infants and young children. It may also occur in adults. Children usually inherit the disease. In adults, many different conditions, including infections and cancer, can cause HLH.

If you have HLH, your immune system does not work normally. Certain white blood cells — histiocytes and lymphocytes — attack your other blood cells. These abnormal blood cells collect in your spleen and liver, causing these organs to enlarge.

“I’m fighting. I’m going to continue to fight,” she said. “And I want to make sure I’m there for him when he starts college.”

Kimberly Jackson fought so hard to be there that she hard to learn something we all take for granted.

“I actually had to learn to walk again because I was in ICU for so many weeks that I lost my normal functioning,” she said.

She is scheduled for a bone marrow transplant, which she says is likely going to be the end of January.

“I’m trying to just take it just one day at a time, and not think too hard about it because it’s still a challenge,” she said. “It’s going to be a challenge. I feel it’s a guarantee, but the doctors say it’s not a guarantee, but it does have a high percentage that my condition won’t come back.”

But like most mothers, she persevered and was able to watch her son sign with North Carolina.

“I’m extremely proud because my son has worked pretty hard, and he’s had a lot of challenges over his senior year,” Kimberly Jackson said. “And he’s stepped up regardless of what he’s facing.”

In addition to his mother being ill, Jackson, who had never missed a game because of injury, hurt his knee in early September against Mount Tabor, and never returned this past season.

“I was blocking somebody, and somebody fell into my leg,” he said. “I tore my meniscus, my MCL (medial-collateral ligament), and I sprained my ACL. But luckily, I didn’t have to have surgery on it.”

That injury, combined with the family dealing with his mother’s health, has been tough.

“I feel like it’s prepared me to do better in my life,” Jackson said. “I feel like I matured a lot in the last couple months. You know, it definitely made me  like have to be better as a person.”

Just like his mother, Desmond’s father sat by his side as Desmond signed his NLI.

“I am so excited for him because the fact that people don’t know about this kid right here is that he’s so humble,” Roderick Jackson said. “He’s humble. He’s very respectful. Sometimes I think athletic people take it for granted because he’s so humble. He’s such a big guy. But he switches a gear when he gets on the field. But I want him to stay true to himself.

“Also, they don’t understand the adversity that he had to face this year. He would’ve ran the table this year for sure.”

Jackson also had his former coach at West Forsyth, Adrian Snow, as well as the current coach at West Forsyth, Kevin Wallace, in attendance.

“He’s been through a lot this year,” Wallace said. “It’s just great to see him, he kind of verballed (at North Carolina) right when I got here (last December) within this first month. So, it was good and for it to see it come to fruition, and a place they want, the parents want, he wants, everything he wants.”

Jackson has been cleared to play and will travel to Chapel Hill this Friday and will practice with North Carolina as it prepares to play in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl against West Virginia on Dec. 27 at 5:30 p.m. in Charlotte. He’s scheduled to move into campus at North Carolina the first week of January.

“I think it’s a very proud moment for him, for his family. Anyone that signs a full scholarship is awesome. It’s awesome,” Wallace said. “Any way that you could sign a full scholarship for any money, to have a full ride knowing that you were going to a great academic school, it’s going to set you up for life, and not have to pay a dime out there, which is huge.

“You get a great education, play in the ACC at a top-25 school in the nation. It’s going to be a very exciting career for him up there.”

Jackson’s parents, family and friends will be with him every step of the way.

“UNC, they recruited him, they came out and watched him,” Roderick Jackson said. “And they stayed with him, and they continued to recruit him above all the other colleges that were recruiting him. That’s the reason we made the decision.”

If all goes to plan, Jackson will be playing for North Carolina when it travels to play at Minnesota on Aug. 24, 2024. And Jackson’s mother expects to be there, along with the rest of the family.

“Last year, they had a bunch of seniors leaving and stuff, on the line and stuff,” Jackson said. “So, basically they told me that, uh, they told me I have.a pretty good chance of like of getting pretty significant playing time.”