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January 22, 2008

Senior Bowl feels like home for Jackson

More Senior Bowl coverage

MOBILE, Ala. Life can't get much better for LSU cornerback Chevis Jackson.

He grew up in Mobile, just down the street from Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the home of the Senior Bowl. He spent his childhood watching this game every year from his end-zone seats and wondering if he'd ever get to play in it.

Now he finally gets to live out his dream. And he's doing it as a national champion.

"Just getting invited and getting the chance to play -- it's crazy," Jackson said.

Jackson still remembers how he'd climb over the fence at the end of the Senior Bowl each year and collect autographs. He even managed to obtain the gloves that LaDainian Tomlinson wore during his Senior Bowl appearances.

"I don't know what I did with them," Jackson said. "I wish I still had them."

As much as Jackson's presence here creates a feel-good story, this is no case of Senior Bowl officials merely rewarding the hometown kid. Jackson earned his invitation.

Jackson started 40 consecutive games during his college career and ranked fifth in the nation this year with 21 passes defended while earning first-team All-Southeastern Conference honors from the league's coaches. His fifth interception of the season helped spark LSU's 38-24 victory over Ohio State in the BCS National Championship Game.

Frank Coyle of draftinsiders.com rates Jackson as the No. 78 overall prospect in the draft class, and LSU wide receiver Early Doucet believes whichever team drafts Jackson will be getting a bargain.

"They're going to get a great cornerback who's really competitive and tough," Doucet said. "He's fundamentally sound and has really good technique and all that stuff."

Jackson isn't the only Senior Bowl performer with local connections.

Alabama defensive end Wallace Gilberry grew up about 30 miles away from Mobile, in Bay Minette, Ala. Gilberry also attended numerous Senior Bowls and remembers getting as close as possible to the bushes on the sideline each year as he attempted to reach out and touch the players. But his best Senior Bowl memory came the year fans assumed he was playing in the game and continually asked for his autograph.

He actually was a senior in high school.

"I was like, 'I don't think you want my autograph,' '' Gilberry recalled. "It was crazy, man."

This year the fans will have a legitimate reason to ask for Gilberry's autograph. And he'll be only too happy to oblige.

Gilberry already has acquired 275 tickets for friends and family members. "Once the ball kicks off, I'm going to be like a kid in a candy store," he said.

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.

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