Neighbor: Jackson excited about XFL

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 2, 2001

Features Editor

Feb. 1, 2001 10 PM

What’s all hype about the XFL? Is it football? Is it pro wrestling with shoulder pads? Or is it just plain entertainment?

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Former Pike County High School and University of Alabama gridiron star Quincy Jackson said the XFL is football with a flair. And, for Jackson, it’s an opportunity to show NFL scouts that he can play their game.

When the Birmingham Bolts square off against the Memphis Maniax in Birmingham Feb. 4, Jackson will be among the players who bring a new brand of football to the fans.

Jackson, who broke a fist-full of receiving records with the Albany Firebirds in the Arena Football League last season, will play wide receiver and return punts and kickoffs for the Bolts and he’s excited about the opportunity and the new twist the XFL brings to the game.

"The XFL is playing by some different rules, but they are rules that will add excitement to the game and speed it up," Jackson

said. "The new rules will make the XFL more of fans’ game. But, when you get right down to it, it’s still smash-mouth football."

Smash mouth with a big mouth?

"But it’s not wrestling" Jackson said. "Vince McMahon (World Wrestling Federation chairman) is just bringing some of the entertainment aspect to the XFL that has been so successful in the World Wrestling Federation."

McMahon’s idea of the XFL is respecting the fan. The tickets will be affordable for middle America. The players can talk trash – "body slam in the press" And, light shows, fireworks, big screens and high-powered speakers will bring a hint of wrestle mania to the stadium.

But, that’s okay with Jackson. It sets a big stage and a bright one for the XFL. And, when the whistle blows, fans had better be ready for some football.

"The players in the XFL are top quality football players," Jackson said. "Many of them could be – should be – in the NFL. The NFL is very political and ‘politics’ has kept a lot of good players out. The XFL is an opportunity for us to show that we can play football on the professional level. What fans will see is professional football – "on a higher speed."

The XFL has made some rule changes, most of them involving the kicking game.

"The changes were made to get the ball in play," Jackson said. "Kick returns bring excitement to the game, and in the NFL, the return has almost been taken out of the game. In the XFL, you can’t fair catch a punt. Some people think that means that we’re going to get our heads taken off, but that’s not going to happen. We have a five-yard halo to catch the ball, so that’s enough space to catch the ball and get moving."

The kickoff return will also be turned on high speed in the XFL.

"Kickoffs have to be returned, unless they’re kicked out of the end zone," Jackson said. "You can’t down the ball. You’ve got to bring it out. Fans will like those changes. They will see action instead of a timeout for the kicking teams to get off the field."

And, when a team scores, they will have to earn the "extra" point by passing or running the ball two yards into the end zone. There will be no point-after kick.

Other rule changes allow more shots at the quarterback and a chance for players to strut their stuff after making a big play. Some of the players will be "miked up" and cameras will peek into the huddles and into the locker room.

And who will they see?

Many familiar faces, especially around Birmingham.

The Birmingham Bolts have several former Alabama and Auburn players on the team. Players including Jay Barker, Curtis Alexander, Eric Kerley, Jason McDonald, Ozell Powell, Kendrick Burton from Alabama. From Auburn, Chris Shelling, James Bostic, Jimmy Brumbaug, Calvin Jackson, Ed King and Quniton Reese are on the roster. Eric Sloan from Troy State is also on the team.

"So, you know the Bolts have a lot of football talent," Jackson said. "Of course, Gerry DiNardo is the head coach of the Bolts and everybody who knows anything about SEC football knows he’s a quality coach. And, there are also a lot of guys who played in the SEC on the Bolts."

Casey Weldon from Florida State will probably be the starting quarterback for the Bolts. Fans will also be familiar with many of the players throughout the league. Two TSU standouts, Shawn Stuckey and Reggie Lowe, are members of the Los Angeles Xtreme. Players of that quality will add interest to the games and credibility, Jackson said.

And for Jackson, the XFL is an opportunity to extend his professional football career and maybe get one more shot at playing in the NFL.

After hauling in 48 passes for 621 yards and four touchdowns to lead Alabama in his senior year, Jackson signed as a free agent with the Cincinnati Bengals, but a knee injury caused him to be dropped from the roster. After he recovered from the injury, he made his mark in the Arena Football League with the Firebirds. He earned the nickname "Action" at Albany and set a new team mark, burning the Houston ThunderBears for 244 receiving yards. His performance, which included four touchdowns and a team record 48-yard catch, earned him AFL Player of the Week honors.

"I didn’t get my opportunity in the NFL because of the injury," he said. "I made a mark in arena football and, now, I’m hoping to prove myself in the XFL. I just thank God for this opportunity and I hope I will be able to use it to my advantage. I’m looking at the XFL as a stepping stone – a stepping stone back to the NFL."