- The Washington Times
Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Alvin Ray Jackson was a much younger man when he broke into the Arena Football League, transitioned from wide receiver to “Jack” linebacker and got his professional playing career off the ground.

In the late 2000s, the AFL paid much better than alternatives like the Canadian Football League, he said. Things were so good for a while that the AFL even had a now-defunct developmental league, the “af2,” where Jackson got his first gig.

But the ride got rougher, including a brief players’ strike in 2012 and subsequent league contraction. Jackson stuck around the AFL through it all, even though he had his eye on the NFL at first.

“Going to the NFL at 26, 27, I glanced and thought about it,” Jackson said. “But I looked at the reality, like, I can be here and be on the roster and have sure money coming in, or I could keep working out, trying out for the NFL and everyone wants that shot. If it’s not happening, then sometimes you have to look at the reality.”

Now 38 years old, Jackson is the oldest player on the Washington Valor and the third-oldest player in the entire AFL, behind a 40-year-old kicker and a 39-year-old lineman. He’s played for nine teams from Albany, New York to Tampa, Florida.

Younger players might grind out seasons in smaller leagues like the AFL, CFL or XFL with the ultimate goal of staying in shape for the NFL and playing on Sundays. But at 38, what keeps Jackson going?

“Last year, it was a ring,” Jackson began. “You know what I’m saying? It was my first championship.”

After being part of three ArenaBowl-losing teams in 2014, 2015 and 2017, Jackson reached the pinnacle of indoor football with Washington last summer. All AFL teams made the playoffs, so despite their 2-10 regular season, the Valor were able to bounce back and win ArenaBowl XXXI.

But now that he owns the ring, he realized that wasn’t his fundamental motivation to keep going.

“It was the camaraderie,” Jackson said. “Just to see the guy next to you excited about playing a game and to be in a locker room laughing, joking and have fun. … I got that ring, they gave them to us in April, but yo, I don’t even think about it a lot.

“It’s still the locker room. It’s still the laughs and the jokes and to get paid for it.”

Jackson isn’t just another body on the Valor’s roster, either. He leads them in tackles with 33, returned an interception for a touchdown and won AFL Defensive Player of the Week for Week 5.

But coaches see more than Jackson’s athletic attributes, teammate Oshay Dunmore said. The defensive back in his second year in the AFL said Jackson has been a “culture-keeper” for the team.

“He’s a great competitor, but at the same time, those years of experience helped him gain a voice to be able to articulate the game in multiple fashions to multiple different types of people from different backgrounds,” said Dunmore, who first met Jackson on the Albany Empire a year ago. “That was one of the first things I noticed with Alvin Ray. He’s intellectual, he’s got a great football IQ. He brings it every day.”

Dumore looks up to Jackson, calling him “Uncle Ray.” Jackson, in turn, doesn’t think it’s incumbent on him to be a leader — it’s better to let it happen naturally.

“I like to believe a lot of them gravitate toward me,” Jackson said. “I don’t see myself as someone who has to do it or must do it. I mean, they don’t mind me doing it, and I appreciate them not minding me doing it. Some of them do look for it and I do try to give my expertise on certain things that I do know, that I’ve seen.”

Coach Benji McDowell praised Jackson for what he regularly does to set up younger players for success.

“When you have a guy that can kind of tell you what’s going on throughout the game, and say, ‘Hey, they did X, Y and Z, and hey, this is coming,’ it’s exactly like having that extra coach on the field,” McDowell said. “We want to teach as many guys to be like that as possible, but Alvin does the same. He teaches people to be that type of player without even knowing it sometimes.”

Jackson doesn’t know how much longer he’ll play. Nobody disputes that he can still perform at a high level, but his mind is on his 9-year-old daughter, Aspen.

“I got a little girl. It’s time to let her live the dream I’m living and try to teach her things and try to be around a lot more,” Jackson said, “because I’m not once the season starts.”

The Valor host the Baltimore Brigade, Monumental Sports and Entertainment’s other AFL franchise, Thursday night at Capital One Arena in a rematch of ArenaBowl XXXI.

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