Split decision


LOS ANGELES -- Early in the summer of 2011, Russell Biggs first laid eyes on Adoree' Jackson.

Jackson wore a backpack and an outfit resembling pajamas, according to Biggs, a longtime track and field coach in Southern California. Straight out of Belleville, Ill., Jackson, 15, stood about 5-foot-7 and attracted zero notice as he strode into a USC football camp.

Lane Kiffin and the other coaches in charge had no idea.

Biggs did, though.

In fact, it was Biggs who suggested Jackson attend that USC camp after Jackson's brother-in-law, Jason Keene, not long before, approached Biggs at a restaurant.

Their encounter seemed innocuous to the coach, but Keene, who worked security at a T.G.I. Friday's, had noticed Biggs, wearing a whistle around his neck and talking sports, on previous trips to the restaurant.

Keene told his wife - Jackson's sister -- that if the coach came back, he would be prepared.

Sure enough, when Biggs showed up and launched into a conversation about Marqise Lee -- his star pupil at Gardena (Calif.) Junipero Serra -- Keene pounced. Biggs listened to Keene tout his kid brother-in-law.

The coach was unconvinced. Then Keene showed him the numbers online, how Jackson came within a hair of a 23-foot long jump to finish second at the Illinois state meet as a freshman that May. It astonished Biggs.

"The first words out of my mouth were, 'Man, I want to meet him,'" Biggs said. "Where is he?"

Keene explained. And soon, Jackson, executing Biggs' plan, visited Los Angeles for the football camp. He wowed the coaches at USC with his speed and athleticism.

Something else appealed to Biggs.

"He was smiling the whole time," Biggs said. "I liked him immediately."

Two months later, Jackson, spurred by that visit and the encouragement of Biggs, moved away from his parents, Christopher and Vianca Jackson, and an adoring hometown for the bright lights and sunshine of Los Angeles. He started school at Serra, a private institution where the students wear ties and slacks and walk among a legion of college-bound athletes.

Athletically, Jackson, in less than three years, has risen to a level above all of his peers at Serra. He is the No. 1 prospect in California and top player nationally, at ninth in the ESPN 300, yet to announce a college decision.

Wednesday, live on ESPNU at 2 p.m. ET, he'll reveal his choice among Florida, LSU, UCLA and USC.

Projected most often at cornerback but equally explosive as a receiver and kick returner, Jackson is the ultimate national recruit, coveted with same fervor by programs of the SEC as the Pac-12 powers near his surrogate hometown.

Outwardly, he is the picture of exuberance.

"He's got the most joy I've ever seen in a kid," Serra coach Scott Altenberg said.

But Jackson is torn by internal conflict. Forces tug at him with power as strong as the contrast between the winter landscapes of Illinois and the beaches of Los Angeles.

Ultimately, a big part of this decision for Jackson comes down to this: Who is he? The kid from outside St. Louis who still spends weeks each year back with his parents or the L.A. prodigy who shed his innocence as a high school sophomore?

Midwestern sensibility and California flamboyance mix like oil and water, but Jackson has found a way to make it mesh.

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