By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)
Ray Jackson (B.A., ’99) aims for excellence in everything he does, from his interactions with others to his career. He also celebrates excellence in others.
Jackson grew up in Denver, graduating from Montbello High School. An outstanding athlete, he was recruited to play football by many universities but committed to CSU. While in high school he had played AAU basketball and participated in a tournament at CSU; he recalled the campus being “awesome.” An added benefit he saw in CSU was that, at that time, it took only 45 minutes to drive from his family’s home to Fort Collins. The campus just “felt right” to him.
Unsurprisingly, he was extremely successful, becoming one of the greatest defensive backs in CSU football history. He was inducted into the CSU Hall of Fame in 2011 and holds the school record for the longest interception for a touchdown ̶ 100 yards in the 1993 game against UTEP. He also is the CSU all-time leader for career interceptions with 20. While he was on the team, CSU won its first-ever WAC championship in 1994 and another in 1995.
Drafted by the Buffalo Bills, Jackson played there for three seasons, then with the Cleveland Browns for three additional seasons. He wanted to be around the game after his playing career and has worked in player development since then, first with the Cleveland Browns, then with the Pittsburg Steelers. In 2015, he was hired by the Denver Broncos as director of player development and recently was promoted to vice president of player development.
He is responsible for all the team’s off-field training. He educates players in league and club initiatives as well as a host of other things, including a rookie transition program and programs to help players transition to life after football. In his vice president role, his player development responsibilities also include diversity.
Jackson passes his own perspective on to players: “Football is what you do, not who you are.” He explains that the transitions from college to professional football and from professional football to the next stage of life can be very challenging. His programs focus on the challenges they may face financially, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.
He draws content and perspectives for these programs as well as his passion for player development from individuals who influenced him along the way. One example he cites is a letter he received while a junior in high school from then Denver Broncos General Manager John Beake and Head Coach Dan Reeves about “doing my best in school” and “how good things pay off.” He also remembers special people he met while on campus, including Professor Tom Fields, “Mr. Pedersen, who owned the Fort Collins Toyota dealership,” and Natalie Meisler, a Denver Post sports writer he “loved talking to” as “she brought out the best in me.”
Jackson’s favorite memories from his time on campus include the team winning their first WAC championship, beating Arizona, and the parade held to celebrate the team’s success. He says watching that parade made him realize the team “helped bring Fort Colins together.”
This extraordinary Ram is not the only CSU alum in his family. Daughter Alissa (B.A., ’21) recently completed a degree in communication studies. Other members of his family include wife Natalie and children Pashay, Evan, Amaya, and Raymond, Jr.
Jackson attributes his successes to his faith, which guides him not only in life but specifically in his player development role, which he calls “my passion, my calling. It’s about love; my faith shows me how to do that.”