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How the wisdom of Kobe Bryant helped Donte Jackson 

Donte Jackson

SPARTANBURG — As Panthers cornerback Donte Jackson was recovering from his torn Achilles, there were days he needed to hear a few words from another high-level athlete who had suffered the same injury.

The same was true for new assistant defensive backs coach DeAngelo Hall when he tore his as a player, and the voice on the other end of his phone was Kobe Bryant.

The messages for Hall and Jackson were the same, even though they were at very different stages of their careers. Hall was in Year 11 of a 14-year NFL career, so it was natural for him to think that his might be over. Jackson was in Year 5, so there was a confidence he'd come back, but there was also plenty of uncertainty about the future and how such a traumatic injury would affect his speed-based game.

"It helped a whole lot, knowing that he's a guy who not only played my position but played at a high level, pre- and post-injury; it was just a lot of insight," Jackson said of his new coach and mentor. "I actually found myself writing a lot of stuff that he said down. The stuff that he says to this day, you know, I'm saying. It was definitely a lot of positive insight just to see that he played several more years afterward. It was definitely, definitely positive stuff."

Jackson can smile when he talks about it now because, at the time Hall was hired this offseason, he was through many of the worst days – the physical grind of a long rehab of an injury that can change the course of a career.

It was a little more raw and a little fresher in 2014, when the Washington cornerback had his conversation with the late NBA legend who tore his Achilles in 2013 at the age of 34.

"I just shared some stories with Donte like Kobe told me — man, just to keep fighting; this is not the end of your story," Hall said.

Hall — a three-time Pro Bowler as a player, who joined the Panthers coaching staff this offseason — was about to board a plane from Philadelphia to Los Angeles for an opinion on the injury when he connected by phone with Bryant. At first, Hall was a little surprised to be getting advice from one of the greatest basketball players of all time. They had met, but they weren't close. Plus, Bryant was a huge Philadelphia sports fan, and Hall was an NFC East rival, so he didn't know what to expect.

"To have him take the time to reach out to a dude like me, I'm a B-list celebrity, man," Hall said. "It just meant the world to me that a guy that I looked up to and idolized took the time out to just lend a couple of words to me to, you know, to tell me just to keep pushing, keep fighting, and I was a great player, and I was going to bounce back."

Kobe Bryant

Maybe it was hearing the story of someone who had gone through it, maybe it was the pain, but Hall remembers being in tears during the conversation as he awaited takeoff.

Among the pointers Bryant shared with Hall that day was that he'd be in good hands with Dr. Robert Anderson, the recognized foot-and-ankle expert, who happens to be Charlottean and former Panthers team doctor. Bryant wanted to come to Anderson but was advised by the Lakers to stay on the West Coast instead. Anderson also did Jackson's repair, giving the player and his new coach some immediate common ground.

"I remember him telling me, 'No, stay exactly where you are,'" Hall said of Bryant's advice steering him to Anderson. "He was giving me pointers, things I needed to do, people I needed to check in with, just giving me a timeline of the process. But mostly, he told me, 'Man, don't let this Achilles beat you down. You're going to be fine; you're going to come right back.'

"You just try to stay as positive as possible. Because when I got my Achilles injury, I mean, me and Donte joked about this all the time, when you first get it, you hear so many horror stories that you think, 'Oh, s---, this is over for me,' and I just wanted to affirm in him that is far from it. I don't feel my s--- to this day. Yeah, I don't even know unless I sit back there and feel the scar that I even had an Achilles, and I was able to come back and continue to play corner at a high level. So I just wanted to let him know that this ain't the end of your chapter, you know, continue to keep leading these dudes the way you do and be prepared to go out and dominate."

DeAngelo Hall

So that's why Hall was happy to fill Jackson's notebook with the same kind of positive thoughts he got from Bryant, because he knows what kind of player he has on his hands now.

Hall recalled scouting Jackson when he was in Washington, sitting in on the combine interviews of the LSU star, and being impressed with his swagger.

That's clearly still intact, based on the chirping on the practice field and the casual way Jackson declared on Monday that he was still the fastest player on the team, though his former LSU teammate DJ Chark Jr. might have something to say about that. Regardless, Chark hears enough to know that Jackson is back to his old self.

"You can't take away his confidence," Chark said with a laugh.

Hall sees it and knows that even if Jackson might not be back to 100 percent speed, he still has the speed to burn.

"I mean, what, you're a 4.2 guy, and now you're a 4.3 guy," Hall said in reference to Jackson's 40 times. (Jackson ran a 4.32 at the combine but had clocked faster times). "All right, now you're a 4.3 guy. But he has so much extra speed that he could lose a step and still outrun 90 percent of the DBs, and easily."

DeAngelo Hall

Of course, if there's an offshoot of the added offseason time to train, it's that Jackson is coming in bigger than he has in the past. Being in the weight room constantly from November through training camp allowed him to put on 10 pounds of muscle.

He's still lean, but he's obviously more solid now, and he's hoping that helps him over the course of the year after a career spent dealing with a collection of smaller problems before the big one last fall.

"Definitely the durability," Jackson said of the advantages of the extra weight.

"I just wanted to prove so much, but I just couldn't really get it rolling. I started getting injuries. But once I looked back, what really hurt me, it wasn't anything to do with my style of play. It wasn't anything to do with my technique; it was all just to do with health.

"So I looked at all the things I can do to help me stay healthy. Most of it was just putting on more muscle, changing the way I eat, lifting more, sleeping more, just to make sure that I'm able to withstand a full season. It was just wanting to get back in the lab, start thinking outside the box, and start changing some stuff up here and there."

Donte Jackson

Jackson's going into his sixth season, and he said the goal was to play six more. So if that meant adding extracts and supplements (and a lot more protein) to his diet, so be it, even if it's something he never considered before.

"Not beet juice, not cherry juice, not none of that stuff," he laughed, making a face one of his kids might when he tells them to eat their vegetables. "After doing a lot more research, now I'm drinking collagen and stuff. You ask questions and learn a lot more because you can never know too much about the body. It's been the biggest component, and it came with 10 extra pounds of muscle, so I'm not mad about that.

"As a young guy, a lot of that stuff goes in one ear and other because you recover faster when you get an injury. Now, I just want to take a different approach."

He was always fast. He's always made plays when he's on the field. Now, with the help of advice from those who have been through it, he's put himself in a position to make plays even longer.

View photos from the Panthers' first practice of training camp in full pads on Monday.

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