If his broadcasting career continues to mirror that of his playing career, former Penn State defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson might have a long tenure with the Big Ten Network and other outlets.
Jackson, an All-Big Ten selection as a senior for the Nittany Lions, arrived in the NFL undrafted and was cut -- twice -- before landing a job.
He played one year for the Miami Dolphins and then five years each with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and St. Louis Rams before one final season with the Detroit Lions.
He was determined, took every possible lesson from mentors and put together a respectable career.
He also built success off the field, starting his own investment company, which specializes in residential urban redevelopment, and bringing the first and only IHOP franchise to Washington, D.C.
He was happy, but still had a dream. “I always had a fascination with sports broadcasting, even when I was a little kid,” Jackson said. “In the back of my mind, I always wanted to try that one day.”
Jackson applied for the NFL Broadcasting Boot Camp, an annual session to help former players get into the business, and was rejected. Twice.
He persisted, though, and completed the intense camp at NFL Films in Mt. Laurel, N.J., this past year. After working with proven on-air talents like James Brown, Curt Menifee and Ron Jaworski (and with directors and producers from numerous networks in attendance), Jackson eventually earned an opportunity at BTN.
He knows broadcasting can be a fickle industry, but Jackson believes the football lessons that helped him succeed in business can help him in broadcasting as well. He credits his coaches -- especially Joe Paterno, Don Shula and Tony Dungy -- for conveying the importance of details, hard work and leadership.
Additionally, Jackson cites Dick Vitale, Billy Packer, fellow Penn Stater Matt Millen and John Madden as broadcasters who set a high standard with an entertaining approach he hopes to emulate … in some ways.
“I have information to share, and I work every day to be prepared,” Jackson said. “I think I’m pretty good at conveying information in a concise manner. What I need to work on is just getting comfortable with camera shots and being myself.
“Plus, it’s a matter of being authentic. People can see right through you if you’re not being yourself. If you do your homework, know the subject matter and share it in a way that resonates with people you’ll be fine.”
That’s Jackson’s game plan, and its pretty similar to what he’s done as a player and businessman. So, he could be set for similar long-term success -- just on a slightly different stage.
My viewing habits do not include “Game of Thrones,” so the slight similarities between that show’s opening credits and a Big Ten Conference football/public service commercial airing this season were lost on me.
Still, the cartoon-ish conference commercial, an aerial view across the conference with school landmarks popping into place, resonated for a football reason.
Just five of the 14 Big Ten schools have their stadium shown on the screen. Alphabetically, that’s Michigan, Nebraska, Ohio State, Penn State and Wisconsin. It’s easy to argue those are the conference’s clear, or expected, football powers.
Along with Beaver Stadium, Penn State’s identifying facilities are Old Main and the Nittany Lion shrine.
There are two other stadiums shown: the Rose Bowl to start the commercial, as the ultimate goal for conference teams, and Yankee Stadium, as the Big Ten tries to parlay Rutgers into some sort of New York City connection.
Yes, Yankee Stadium hosts the New Era Pinstripe Bowl as well, and a conference team is slated to play there Dec. 27. Still, it’s a reach.