A fourth grade Josh Jackson was very nervous the night before his first tackle football game. After all, he had a lot to live up to — his father, Fred, was a 23-year coach at the University of Michigan, where his brother eventually played wide receiver.
His mother, Teresa Jackson, could tell, and had the perfect suggestion in mind.
“Just go watch Lion King before the game. It’ll calm you down and you can not focus on the game and you know, just relax,” Jackson recalled her telling him.
Mothers know best, so Jackson listened and went to go watch the 90s classic animation. Sure enough, it calmed his nerves.
And soon thereafter, it became his tradition. Through middle school to Saline High School to Virginia Tech, the ritual never ceased. Before the start of each season, Jackson would turn on his favorite movie to tune out all the noise.
“I just like watching it,” he said. “Little tradition and a little superstition I have I guess.”
So before Maryland football’s game against Howard last Saturday, the quarterback sat down at his apartment to watch The Lion King. This time though, it was on his phone — he finally downloaded it after getting a new one with more storage space.
“It has always soothed him and made him really focused on what is going to be in front of him the next day with the game,” Teresa said. “It’s pretty tough to go in there and win the quarterback job and have the guys surround you and approve of you and know that you’re going to be there and be the leader of the team.”
It did the trick. In his first game back since suffering a season-ending leg injury in 2018, Jackson led the Terps to a 79-0 win with 245 yards and four touchdowns on a 62.5 completion percentage in just one half. In doing so, he was the first Maryland quarterback with three passing touchdowns in a single half since 2013.
“For me to see him go out there and then get hit and get back up was really a relief,” Teresa said. “He was able to get his groove back. And that’s what my husband and I were really happy with, that he got in there and he [was] just doing his thing like he always has.”
Whether it’s wearing the same piece of equipment over and over, following a game day ritual to a tee like clockwork or pumping up to a pregame jam (for coach Mike Locksley, it always has to be Citizen Cope), athletes are known for being pretty superstitious people.
But Jackson’s is definitely a little more unique than most.
His love of Simba, Timon, Pumba, Rafaki and the gang extends beyond just watching the movie though. Teresa remembers him and his brother, Jeremy, crawling around the house pretending to be Simba as little kids.
Jackson’s first tattoo, which he got before leaving for his freshman year of college, is of the phrase “Hakuna Matata” used throughout the film.
His dog, a 40-pound beagle mutt mix, is named Simba. Lion King posters hang around his apartment, according to his mother. And when asked if he knew every line by heart, he quickly replied: “Yeah, sure do.”
”He loves his dog,” said wide receiver Sean Savoy, Jackson’s roommate. “All he do is go home and lay with his dog, walk him.”
From talking to a few other teammates and coach Mike Locksley, however, it seems like Jackson has kept his obsession to himself.
“That makes sense, ‘Hakuna Matata’ for Josh Jackson,” Locksley said when he was told at a presser Wednesday. “It does make sense because I need Josh to maybe be a little faster, a little quicker, a little more sense of urgency when he’s back there. But I can see a little ‘Hakuna Matata’ with his approach.”
Teammates describe Jackson’s demeanor on the field as calm and collected, unfazed by anything that comes his way.
“You gotta be relaxed and having no worries,” Jackson said. “It’s kind of just me I guess you could say.”
He’ll take that “no worries” mentality into the Terps’ big game against No. 21 Syracuse this Saturday.