By Chad Osborne
Brandon Jackson ’10 appears stumped when asked why he is proud to be a Highlander.
Stumped not for lack of reasons, “but because there are so many,” he said, pondering answers to the overwhelming question.
As he gathers his thoughts, he leans back into his chair, runs his fingers across his beard and flashes a warm, bright smile that forever sears itself on your temporal lobe. Then, he spouts a flood of reasons he is proud to be a Highlander. Grab a snack; this could take a while.
Let’s begin with an email.
When Jackson was a freshman, he received a message asking for applicants to work as a student assistant to the coaches of the Radford men’s basketball team. As a three-sport athlete back at Amherst County High School, he was thrilled for the opportunity.
“I thought, this is so cool,” he recalled. “I’ve always been a sports guy, and I wanted to be involved in sports when I got to college.”
He thought the job might be temporary, perhaps just for the upcoming season. But, it turned into a four-year experience that taught Jackson a lifetime’s worth of valuable lessons that have served him well throughout his life and career.
Jackson and a handful of other student assistants worked almost daily with the men’s basketball coaches, doing everything from managing film exchanges with upcoming opponents to creating scouting reports, managing travel for away games and inventory management. “We got sponsored by Nike while I was there,” he said, beaming with pride to have been part of the Swoosh movement.
One of the highlights of his Radford journey was assisting the Radford teams that played against well-known basketball schools such as Georgetown, Kansas, Duke and the University of North Carolina, culminating in the Highlanders’ run to the 2009 Big South Conference championship.
Jackson also worked with some of the team’s camps. “So, I learned about operations and administration,” he recalled, and he balanced it all with his public relations major and sports administration minor.
“The job taught me a lot,” said Jackson, who, through diligence and hard work, became the lead student assistant for his sophomore, junior and senior years. “That education is one reason I’m proud to be a Radford University graduate.”
Just when you think you have a grasp on how important the assistant position was to Jackson, he tells more stories. There was the time, after a big road win and no chance of getting schoolwork done amid the celebrations on the bus ride back to campus, he pulled an all-nighter on a Sunday night into Monday morning to write a six-page paper. “That taught me about time management and responsibility,” he said.
There are the stories about suiting up for practice as a member of the scout team — “even though I’m not the tallest by any means,” he says through his infectious laugh. Those tense practices taught him to be prepared for anything, any time, no matter the situation.
But perhaps the stories that paint the most vivid images of Jackson’s character are the ones he shares about working with the players, helping them through everyday life — “like trips to the local Walmart,” he says — and helping them, too, balance basketball and academics. In the locker room before games and on the bench during, Jackson served as a calming presence to players who were feeling the intensity of the moment when so much was riding on their performances and so much was at stake for the Highlanders.
Listening to Jackson’s voice, you can hear how his presence may have resulted in a few extra points and a few extra wins for the Highlanders. You may feel you, too, could hit a buzzer-beater with a tenth of a second on the clock as fans scream inside a packed arena.
But, you also recognize Jackson’s role was not an easy one. He worked with players who came to Radford from all over the world, with various backgrounds, speaking various languages. “I knew I had to work through various barriers and remind them that they have prepared their whole lives for these moments, we have prepared them, and they are going to be OK.”
That seems like a tall task for a student, mentoring fellow students who were about his age. Being an athlete himself helped, but what was it about Jackson that made student-athletes listen to him?
“I had to put myself in their shoes, and I was able to be a friend and connect on that level,” he said. “I’m still able to do those things I learned at Radford, and it has helped me in my career, and it still pushes relationships forward even to this day.”
Jackson has taken with him those lessons he learned on the basketball court and in the classroom at Radford as he continues to blaze a successful career for himself in the business world. Take a look at his LinkedIn page, and you can see proof that he is what others say he is: “an exceptional business professional in human relations, process improvement and project management.”
“I owe a lot of that to Radford, the great professors there and my job with the basketball team,” he said with a smile and a reflective stroke of his beard. “It taught me a lot about business and leadership, budgeting, logistics and time management.”
Jackson speaks about his alma mater with enormous pride, which is matched equally by his unwavering desire to give back to the University.
“I give back with my time, and I always enjoy speaking to students, the next generation of alumni,” says the Alumni Association Board of Directors member. “And, anytime I can give financially to support the University, I definitely do so.”
Jackson often encourages others to do the same. “There were people who came before us who gave and helped our experience,” he said. “I feel like it is important to pay it forward — I was raised on that — and just understand you are making a difference in somebody’s life every day.
“I know a lot of people do give back with their time and treasure, and it makes me proud,” he said. “I am proud to be a Highlander.”