Alaric Jackson was more than a little surprised last week to find himself atop the CFL's Scouting Bureau's fall list of the top-20 prospects for next year's draft.
After all, the Iowa left tackle has yet to play a down this season with the school set to kick off the 2020 campaign Oct. 24 versus Purdue.
The six-foot-six, 320-pound Windsor, Ont., native is entering his fourth season anchoring the left side of the Hawkeyes' offensive line.
"Honestly, just because like everybody else I'm still trying to prove myself," Jackson told reporters during a videoconference Tuesday. "(Jackson's reaction) wasn't anything too big because I really haven't done anything . . . but it's just nice, honestly."
Jackson started 10 games last season for Iowa (10-3), missing three contests with a knee injury. That prompted Jackson to decide against entering the 2020 NFL draft and remain at school for his senior season.
"I'll be honest here, I wanted to leave . . . I want to get paid, honestly," Jackson said, matter-of-factly. "But I had an injury . . . so I decided to come back, and get healthy, have a better year and prove myself to everybody else."
Jackson was included on the pre-season watch for this year's Outland Trophy, given annually to U.S. college football's top lineman. He's been projected by some as a guard in the NFL.
"If they want me at guard, I'll play guard," he said. "If they want me to play tackle, I'll play tackle.
"At the end of the day, I'm just trying to get paid."
Like all sports leagues and organizations, the Big Ten Conference has been dramatically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. In August, the conference decided against playing football this year, only to have a change of heart and have its teams participate in an eight-game regular season.
The Big Ten's reversal had no impact upon Jackson because he continued training throughout the process.
"My whole idea on that was to stay in shape, keep working out," he said. "I didn't want to make any drastic choices just because things could change.
"I just waited it out a bit, stayed here in Iowa City, trained every day and stayed in shape."
Jackson has made one drastic change during the pandemic. In March, he switched to veganism to live a healthier lifestyle.
"Honestly it was a big thing for me because it's not normal to be an offensive lineman and be a vegan," he said. "I got some jokes, which is fine, I enjoy it.
""Everybody was on board with it. They've seen how I move better, I'm a lot more capable of doing more things now (because) of my diet. Honestly, it was a good thing for me and the program. It's a big change, but it's a fun change."
Iowa offensive line coach Tim Polasek has noticed a difference in Jackson.
"He's quicker, he's more sudden,” Polasek told the Daily Iowan, an independent newspaper at the University of Iowa. "I see a change in the morning (workouts).
"He’s got a little more energy so maybe there is something to that. Maybe we should all take some notes."
However, Jackson said his new diet makes it a little more difficult to keep weight on.
"It's a little difficult," he said. "When you eat meat, it helps you gain weight easily.
"So I eat more, maybe four, five times a day. I have more shakes, a lot more plant protein. It's a little difficult but you have to deal with it."
While Jackson is a Windsor native, he grew up in nearby Detroit. He said Iowa reminds him a lot of Canada.
"I kind of miss (Canada)," he said. "If anything, I'd say it's just like Iowa.
"Nice people, safe but more of a bigger city for the most part. It's a blessing to be from Canada and living here and seeing how the differences are."
Basketball was Jackson's sport of choice growing up. He didn't step on to a football field until his junior season in high school.
"I'm like six foot six, I played centre," he said. "That's not really ideal for a centre in the NBA."
Jackson will certainly have options for 2021, be it in the NFL or CFL or even at Iowa as the NCAA has given fall sport student-athletes an additional year of eligibility due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Jackson isn't worrying about any of that now.
"As long as I keep my head on straight, work hard every day, it will take care of itself," he said. "Just play hard and be consistent with my play.
"I'll see how the year goes, take it day by day . . . it's all in God's hands, honestly."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 13, 2020
Dan Ralph, The Canadian Press