Bills running back Fred Jackson formally launched his D-3 Nation initiative as a platform for Division III college athletes at Buffalo State College Thursday. Providing greater exposure for the accomplishments of Division III athletes is the ultimate goal while also creating a community among those athletes to support one another.
Jackson naturally brings a high profile to the initiative being a successful NFL running back, but he's already looking to recruit fellow Division III athletes with similar accomplishments to help grow the brand. Fortunately for Jackson there's a Division III athlete in this year's NFL draft class who is a lock to be selected by an NFL club this spring.
Hobart's Ali Marpet is an offensive lineman who has done nothing but build momentum since he was invited to the Senior Bowl. He's proven he's capable of playing with and alongside the best in the college ranks and projects as a mid-round draft selection. Jackson reached out to the Division III draft prospect Wednesday.
"I got a hold of him via text," said Jackson. "I told him it was fun to watch everything he was going through. I'm very excited for him. It's a lot of fun to see him get that attention and showcase his ability. He said he's loving every bit of this process."
Marpet was understandably shocked that an NFL veteran like Jackson got in touch with him, but the Bills running back wanted to let the Division III product know there's a support system in the NFL for him.
"He told me he appreciated me reaching out," said Jackson. "I definitely caught him off guard, but a D-3 (athlete) is a D-3 (athlete) and I'm extremely happy and he's somebody I definitely wanted to talk to."
Seeing a Division III player invited to the Senior Bowl and the NFL Combine is a rarity, but Jackson believes there is talent at the D-III level that can succeed in the NFL. In fact it was a Division III NFL player who came before him that served as his inspiration.
"I've talked to London Fletcher, who I think was the godfather of Division III football players," said Jackson of the John Carroll University alum. "I remember when I got (to Buffalo) he was somebody that I wanted to be like. I told him that I wouldn't have gotten to where I got if I didn't look up to him. There are plenty of people we can reach out to and they're all on board. It's something where everybody you talk to has that sense of pride of being a Division III athlete."
That includes Marpet, but Jackson doesn't want to burden the offensive line prospect with shouldering such a responsibility right now while he's preparing for the NFL draft.
"That's something we'll talk about in the future," Jackson said. "Right now I want him to enjoy what he's doing and enjoy this whole process leading up to the draft. But I definitely want to have that conversation with him and ask him to continue to carry this torch of being a Division III guy who is having some success at this level.
"Other Division III football players are what is the direct pipeline to the NFL. That's something we'll work to expand. We definitely want to be able to have every Division III athlete that comes into the league to come through this D3-Nation channel at some point and be proud of it."
From Division III to the NFL, Fred Jackson has seen it all in his football career. Congrats on a remarkable career.