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A lifetime of chasing success brought Dane Jackson to the Panthers

Dane Jackson

CHARLOTTE — For most of Dane Jackson's life, he chased after those who were bigger, faster, and stronger. Jackson, the youngest of three boys, spent his childhood in Pittsburgh trying to keep up with anything his brothers and their friends did, even at his expense.

"I have two older brothers actually, but (his brother Louis)…I was always around his friends. I never played with like kids my age; I was always with his friends. So, we were playing football and stuff like that. It was like, I have to show out, you know what I mean? Or they won't let me play with them," Jackson laughed.

Jackson was the Buffalo Bills' seventh-round pick in 2020, in a draft class shaped partly by Dan Morgan, a former Bills front office member and current Panthers general manager. As part of a 12-man free agency class that the Panthers signed this offseason, Jackson is expected to compete at cornerback and provide depth at the position which also features Jaycee Horn and Troy Hill.

But Jackson has long gotten past any fear of competition. His brother and friends raced that out of him years ago.

Dane Jackson

"I mean, there was times where (Louis) would like, not let me play with him. I would be so mad," Jackson continued. "Him and his whole crew would just run from me and I was just chasing around the whole neighborhood. So, I kind of got introduced to it pretty early."

Jackson credits most of his success on the field and off to those early lessons by his brother, though. With every tease and playground initiation, Louis Helms—six years Jackson's elder—was raising his younger brother to be great.

"That's my guy. My role model right there," Jackson said of his brother. "I'm watching him do everything and I'm learning from him and learning from the good things he do and the mistakes he made. That's kind of been a good thing for me. Because I, my father, you know, he's still alive and everything, but we never had that tight type of a relationship. So, he's been that for me. My older brother has been that for me, for sure."

If his brothers hadn't been there to teach Jackson what it took to make it to the football field, though, his city would have raised him. The Pittsburgh native calls the Steel City home to this day. He was a Panther before at the University of Pittsburgh, and like many production towns nestled in the Appalachians, Pittsburgh demands a toughness that will spit you out if unattained.

"I just feel like, you know, over the years, just the culture and stuff that everybody, not, even just athletes, everybody in the city of Pittsburgh. I feel like that's what they instill," Jackson said.

Dane Jackson college panther

While at Pitt, Jackson also underwent a change that still pays dividends. He was a quarterback and cornerback in high school, although the latter was more for depth at a smaller school. His focus was on being a passer. When he arrived for his first summer workout with the Pitt Panthers, it was with the designation "athlete" and no real idea how to use him.

Coaches aren't allowed at college summer workouts, but word got back that Jackson was floating. They sent back the message, focus on corner. For now, just do everything they do.

"It's like if that's where you see me at, then that's where I need to be," Jackson recalled. "That's where I need to learn to get better and stuff like that. So, I accepted it, and it's been the best thing that's happened to me."

Jackson admitted that the transition constituted a learning curve. He got some of his best lessons after arriving in Buffalo, when every day in practice, he had to line up across from Stefon Diggs.

"He gave me a lot of confidence coming in this league because my first year I didn't make the team and I was on practice squad and every day, I had to go against him," Jackson said of the veteran wideout, who was traded to the Texans Wednesday. "But when I finally got that start, when I finally got that time, he came to me, and he was just like, 'Bro, you go against me every single day in practice. Go out there and do what you do, you know what I mean?'

"And I remember that specifically right before the game, and ever since then, I just been trying to make the most of every opportunity."

Dane Jackson

Jackson's rookie season was 2020, when teams were allowed unlimited elevations due to COVID-19 restrictions. Jackson was elevated eight times that season, six during the regular season and twice in the postseason. Each elevation was a chance to prove what he could do in the league, posting 25 tackles, an interception, and a fumble recovery that season. Each demotion back to the practice squad was a reminder of what can happen in the NFL.

Eventually, Jackson built calluses that he knows have carried him to this point.

"I know the way things go, like there's a lot of things you can't control in this league. And you have to be willing to accept that, and the easier you accept that, I feel like the longer you'll play because you accept roles and you accept actions and you don't take everything to heart," Jackson said.

His best season came in 2022 when he nabbed two interceptions, 12 passes defended, and 57 tackles. As he stared down his first offseason as a free agent, Jackson wasn't sure what to expect. He talked to several teams, but the more he heard from the Panthers, the more he felt valued.

"Just to be wanted in this league, that's something on its own," Jackson shared. "Because a lot of guys, they just fall short or don't get another opportunity. And sometimes they can't even control that. So just the fact that they wanted me here and want me to play here and bring whatever value I can, that's big for me."

Dane Jackson spent his life trying to keep up with those that were older and stronger. Once he caught them, he kept running, bringing him here to Charlotte.

"There's a lot of ups and downs a lot of ebbs and flows of this game and you just got to be ready," he said. "That's pretty much how I approach my life."

View the best photos of the latest roster additions on set after they officially signed with the Panthers.

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