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The OSC Interview: Trenton Freedom WR Roger 'Spiderman' Jackson

by Fran Stuchbury
July 23, 2014 - Professional Indoor Football League (PIFL) - Trenton Freedom

OurSports Central contributor Fran Stuchbury recently interviewed Trenton Freedom wide receiver Roger "Spiderman" Jackson. Jackson led the Freedom in its first season in the Professional Indoor Football League with 59 receptions for 730 yards and 15 touchdowns. He was named the PIFL Offensive Rookie of the Year.

Fran Stuchbury: On February 20th, you signed with the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League, and were one of the team's last roster cuts prior to the season. How was that experience?

Roger "Spiderman" Jackson: Getting signed to the Iowa Barnstormers was one of the best experiences I've had as a football player. Getting the opportunity to go to an AFL camp and showcase my talent was something I could never forget. Coming from a small school, you have a chip on your shoulder or at least I did; especially when you feel like you had Division I talent coming out of high school.

So to go up there and not just compete but to make plays with and against players from all the big schools was an amazing experience. Darius Reynolds from Iowa State was one of the players who helped me the most in my time there. He took me under his wing and made sure I was always doing the right thing. I still talk to him everyday along with some other players from there. I was disappointed that I didn't make the team because I felt I was good enough. But I will forever be grateful for the opportunity because they pretty much jump-started my professional career.

FS: How did you end up playing for the Trenton Freedom?

RJ: After getting released from the Barnstormers - I can't lie - I was hurt and disappointed. Right after I got the news, I was sad honestly. I cried a lot while I was on the phone with my best friend TJ Langley who spent time with the Buffalo Bills and played for the Philadelphia Soul this season and two seasons before this one. I told him I didn't want to play any more. After 30 seconds of him immediately fussing at me I snapped out of it and realized this was only the beginning.

I went home for two days after leaving Iowa, and Trenton Freedom offensive Ryan Vena called me. I joined the Freedom two days after that. I think he found me off of the Arena Football League transactions list.

FS: How did you like dealing with head coach Kevin O'Hanlon and offensive coordinator Ryan Vena?

RJ: Coach O'Hanlon is not just one of the best coaches I've ever had but one of the best people I've been around. To see how he handled our team and the way he treated all the players was amazing. I feel that's why we did so good in our first year. When you have a head coach that you know sincerely cares about you, you do anything for him: run through a brick wall or jump over it for a touchdown if that's what it takes.

As far as offensive coordinator Ryan Vena, I owe him as much as anybody. He was the one who called me and invited me up there. He said it would be a good opportunity to do some good things and help make some plays. I was nervous of course, but it turned out better than I could have ever imagined. He pushed me everyday harder than a lot of people have, but he also believed in me. Sometimes it was hard, but when you know your coach believes in you the sky is the limit.

FS: How did you like having Warren Smith as your quarterback for the Freedom, and what separates him from other quarterbacks you've had in the past?

RJ: I can't say enough about Warren Smith. I could literally write a book on him. One of the best leaders and quarterbacks I have ever had. To see him lead our team and micro manage during practice and games was amazing. His knowledge of the game was very impressive.

When a QB and WR get together for the first time it's hard because you don't know each other's tendencies. Warren made it to the championship his rookie year and was MVP this year. It would have been easy for him to get frustrated with me because this was my first year playing indoor football. In Iowa I was in the slot. Here I was outside so when I came, it was pretty much day one all over again.

He helped me and as time went on you could tell our chemistry got better. It was like playing with Johnny all season. Warren 'Football' Smith! He is a warrior and fighter. A winner and a leader. He can play on any level.

FS: How did you end up with the nickname "Spiderman?" Where did that come from?

RJ: I've been Spiderman since 2006. We were brought to Siloam Springs, Arkansas after hurricane Katrina. I started playing football and was given the opportunity to start my junior year. I started to make a couple nice catches and people started to notice. There's a blog site that's real big in Arkansas as far as sports goes ( I had never heard of it but some of my high school team-mates were on their regularly.

I made a couple big catches and a regular on there made the comment, "Roger Jackson from Siloam Springs had a couple more good catches this game. He jumps high, catches everything, and his hair reminds me of 'spiderwebs.'" After that it stuck. When Arkansas Tech came to school to recruit me, they called me Spiderman and they saw what the blogger wrote. I am Spiderman Jackson eight years strong.

FS: How was your experience playing college football at Arkansas Tech, a Division II school?

RJ: My time at Arkansas Tech was a special time. I did a lot of growing up. I went through a lot there and did a lot of learning. Some of my best and favorite coaches I met there were Scott Preston and Danny Schaechter who have both moved on. They were two of the best coaches I've ever had. They pushed me to levels I didn't even know I was capable of.

Steve Mullins who was my head coach and is now the Athletic Director, I can't thank him enough for all he's done.

Last but not least, the current Head Coach Raymond Monica who allowed me to come back and play my senior year. A special thanks to him also. I went to Arkansas Tech as a boy and left as a man. They used to call me Mr. ATU at school so needless to say they'll forever be in my heart.

FS: When you were younger did you have any wide receivers that played in the NFL that you looked up to?

RJ: The list is endless. But I can definitely name a couple of ones I tried to model my game around. Of course Jerry Rice is the first. Randy Moss is my favorite. I thought I was Chad Ocho Cinco Johnson in college. I wanted to work hard like Larry Fitzgerald. Reggie Wayne who I met a couple times; Marques Colston who I was blessed to meet this year. Growing up I looked up to Skyler Green who went to my high school in New Orleans, and I had the privilege to be in his company a couple of times thanks to my brother L.W. Higgins.

FS: Was the touchdown catch you made in a Freedom home game against the Richmond Raiders on May 3rd, where you jumped for the ball in the left hand corner of the end zone, caught it and went flying over the dasher board the best touchdown catch you made all season long? The video was so good it was put up on ESPN's website.

RJ: . Honestly I feel I had a couple more touchdowns that I think were physically harder as far as breaking tackles and things like that, but that touchdown was the most special to me because it was a home game and sparked a comeback win for our team.

Our fans went crazy and like you said it did make it to ESPN which was one of my biggest dreams. It was on my football bucket list and I was humbled by the entire situation. I just thank Warren Smith for throwing it to me and giving me a chance to make a play.

FS: How did you like dealing with the Freedom fans at home games all season?

RJ: I can't say enough about the Trenton fans and the people in that town. That's another book all itself next to Warren Smith's. Those people sparked our season and were a big reason our home record was so good. To have people come to every home game faithfully and to see the kids and to be able to interact with them is priceless. Some fans turned out to be like family after awhile.

One family is particular the, the Loitfellners, stood out to me the most. They had season tickets and even made it to a couple away games. They sat right behind out bench, and every time I did anything they were the first to congratulate me. To be able to show them love and hug them after games were priceless. That's why we play the game: for people like that and the kids. Football is too hard and vicious to just play for yourself. You have to play for something bigger than yourself, and that's what I did this season. The Trenton Freedom had the best fans in the PIFL easily. Best I've ever seen.

FS: How much of an honor was it for you to be named PIFL Offensive Rookie of the Year this season?

RJ: This is actually a funny story. I'm in the hotel room of one of my teammates and I get a text 'they robbed you!!' So immediately I ran to my room because I always keep my door cracked. I went to check if anything was missing. Then I got the picture of the All Pro team and I guess he meant because I didn't make first or second team. I told him that wasn't my concern. I was happy to have been able to make the plays I did. But at the beginning of the season I told some teammates I didn't care about that stuff, but I would've liked to be the Offensive Rookie of the Year. That was my goal. But when I saw the list nobody was named Offensive Rookie of the Year so I didn't think the league did one.

We had our final team banquet/picnic and at the end they handed out awards. But I knew I wasn't getting one because the list was already out. But the last award they gave out was a team award for Rookie of the Year. I was humbled and surprised to say the least. Luckily we were at a picnic so I didn't get emotional, but even though it was just for our team, I was grateful.

Days later I was with a friend, and they showed me a link on FB saying I was PIFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. I didn't realize it was for the whole league. My response was "I know, I saw that already," not really knowing what happened until head coach Kevin O'Hanlon and offensive coordinator Ryan Vena called and explained. I was overwhelmed to say the least. Words can't express; biggest athletic honor I've ever had.

FS: If you don't end up making it to an NFL, CFL or Arena Football team next season, would you be happy to return to the Freedom?

RJ: My coaches said after this year they'd be surprised if I didn't move up. I've been getting a lot of calls and emails from Arena Football and CFL teams; also a couple agents saying they sent my bio and film to a couple NFL teams so some things are already in the works. But I've also been making plans to return to New Jersey in a couple months to train and to be around just in case. So I will definitely return if I haven't been picked up by an NFL, CFL, or AFL team. We have some unfinished business in Trenton. I want to help them win their first ring and be a part of that if that is what is in God's plan for me. No matter what happens though, I will always be part of the Trenton Freedom for life!

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