His approach to life in the NFL is more direct than the path that led to that approach.

"I'm going to force you to keep me here," said Mike Jackson Sr., a Birmingham native, Spain Park High graduate and returning starter at cornerback for the Seattle Seahawks. "I look at it like this, I need to play so good that you feel like, as a coach and an organization, you can't feed your family if I'm not on the field. At that point, it's not about politics or if you like me or don't like me. If I'm playing that good, it don't matter if you don't like me or feel like I'm a tad bit slow or whatever the case may be. You know, he's a ball player and I need him out there."

The 26-year-old Jackson, who first came into the league in 2019, did just that a year ago. He started in all 17 games for the Seahawks, contributing 75 tackles, 14 pass breakups, an interception and two pass breakups for one of the top cornerback trios in the 2022 NFL season. His first real NFL opportunity couldn't have gone much better.

Now, in a young career filled with challenging times, he has a new challenge. Now, he probably has to battle rookie Devon Witherspoon, who was the No. 5 overall pick in last week's NFL Draft, to retain his starting spot.

Perhaps that challenge shouldn't be a surprise. After all, nothing has come easy to Jackson in his football career. Jackson had recruiting interests but wasn't a top-tier recruit. Most of his offers were from Group of Five teams. Minnesota offered him early, and Clemson came on late. The summer before his senior year, his aunt, who lived in Miami, suggested he go to a camp at the University of Miami.

"I wasn't paying Miami no attention," Jackson said. "I'm like I really don't want to go to the camp because they're not going to offer me. But, worse come to worse, I can go down there and see my family. For me, it was, yeah, I'm going to the camp but more so to see my family."

The first thing they did in the camp was run a 40-yard dash, and he was timed at 4.5 seconds. They followed with footwork drills before the camp was washed out by a rainstorm. However, Miami coaches had seen enough and offered him before he left. That fall, he committed to the Hurricanes. He spent two seasons playing special teams, waiting his turn, before earning All-ACC honors during his final two seasons.

He was selected in the fifth round by the Dallas Cowboys, the lone organization that welcomed him on a visit during the draft process.

"It was just a good moment," said Jackson, whose pick came on the third day of the draft. "I wanted to get drafted first round, just like everybody. Once you hear your name being called, you don't care what round. You don't care about none of that. It's just my name was being called in the draft process. You saw some highlights. You saw my name on the ticker. All that."

He had no idea of what was ahead. In a way, though, he has begun preparing for what's ahead on the day that he began training with former UAB and NFL defensive end Otis Leverette. Jackson said he was in seventh grade at the time he started training with Leverette, who owns and operates Modernday Fitness in Birmingham.

"Coach Otis, for me, has helped more in this process than anybody," Jackson said. "All the messages he sent went we were younger came into play. What you gonna do when you get cut? What are you going to do when adversity faces you? In the end, it can work out. Just keep showing up, regardless of what's going on."

His rookie camp with the Cowboys went well until he tweaked his hamstring during the first exhibition game. Jackson said he diligently worked his way back and was ready to play in the third exhibition. However, he said, the coaching staff didn't play him when he returned. He was let go on the final cut but was picked back up and placed on the practice squad. In October, he was signed by Detroit Lions and placed on active squad. However, his game time activity consisted of four snaps in eight games.

"It was frustrating because it was like, why bring me here if you're not going to let me play?" Jackson said. "I'm a healthy scratch, inactive every week. It was like, yeah, I'm not on practice squad, but I feel like I still am because I'm not playing."

The encouraging part was he had bonded with the special team's coach, who said he had plans for Jackson the following season.

"I had a nice little apartment; everything is set up," Jackson said. "My girlfriend flies up. She leaves and two or three days later, they tell me they are going to cut me. Mom flies up, we pack everything up and we drive back to Alabama. On the way, we're like in the middle of nowhere, cornfields everywhere. I get a call from Detroit, and they say we changed our mind, we're not going to cut you, we're going to trade you to New England."

What are you going to do when adversity faces you?

Jackson never got on the field for a game in New England, but his time with the Patriots set the foundation for what he's accomplishing in Seattle. He worked and learned with veteran cornerbacks. He soaked in the football knowledge of head coach Bill Belichick. He grew daily as a football player.

"Belichick puts pressure on you," Jackson said. "Every day, you're on eggshells. At any moment, you can be cut. For me, I just told myself I'm going to learn as much as I can. I learned so much about football, to the point of where my knowledge of the game was as good as somebody who had actually been playing, on the field, a couple years."

He showed up in Seattle with confidence and determination to work his way on the field. He spent most of 2021 on the practice field but was activated for a late-season game against Detroit and had two pass breakups. He put together a strong training camp last summer and appeared to be headed to the active roster, especially with some injuries in the secondary. However, he had been there before, so it was natural to be wary.

"My thing was, I wasn't sure," Jackson said. "Nobody was really telling me nothing. They don't tell you if you make the team. In camp, you know you're going to get cut because they call you. Nobody calls me when you make the team. I'm calling my agent, like, am I on the team or not? Nobody has said nothing. He was like, the date is past; you're on the team."

It still took a could days to get coaching staff confirmation.

"The D-coordinator sat me down for a conversation," Jackson said. "He said 'Bruh, you're the starter. Not because they're hurt but because you had a great preseason and you earned it. Don't think you're just the starter by default; that's not the case.'"

He then went out and had his best professional season.

"All the pain of getting cut, living in different places, being away from my kids," Jackson said. "Last year was the first year, full time, I was with my girl and my son since 2018 when he was born. I really sacrificed everything for the game. I knew one day it would pay off. It was just looking real murky and ugly. All that I've been through, I take that with me, no matter if it was good, bad or indifferent. That's kind of made me who I am."

Don't miss out! Subscribe to our newsletter and get our top stories every weekday morning.