Tyoka Jackson was a defensive force during his time at Penn State University. He graduated as the school’s all time sack leader along with a laundry list of honors and awards. He was named the Defensive MVP of the 1992 Fiesta Bowl, named All-Big Ten first team, a starter in the Senior Bowl, and a member of the Penn State All Decade Team of the 1990’s.
Jackson went undrafted in the NFL but wound up playing 12 seasons in the league, the fifth longest tenure of any Nittany Lion in history. He retired after the 2006 season.
Long before his playing days ended, Jackson was already establishing his career as a entrepreneur. He founded the Jackson Investment Company, LLC in 1995. To this day, the company focuses on the purchase and development of residential real estate for urban renewal projects. The Penn State grad is also responsible for bringing the first IHOP restaurants to the Washington D.C. area.
Active in his community, Jackson has been a board member of the YMCA of the Capitol Area (Capitol View Chapter).
We caught up with him to talk about his career, seeing his first NFL trading card, signing autographs and his own collection.
TR– You were a standout at Penn State University. What was it like to be a part of one of the best environments in all of college football?
TJ-There is no secret that Penn State folks believe we have the best game day environment and experience in all of college football. It takes just one visit to State College to see what happens. To be around the stadium and even down town, the tremendous amount of the influx of people into State College is amazing. The tailgating is top notch. The friendly atmosphere is second to none. Then to throw in a white out, that’s my only regret, I wish they came up with the whiteout idea when I was there in the mid-nineties! There is never a day that goes by that I regret having chosen to go to that school and play for that coach and wear that uniform. I look back on it with fond memories.
TR–You spent 12 years in the NFL, which is one of the longest runs for a Penn State player ever. That is pretty cool, right?
TJ– I look back on it with fond memories. I didn’t want to think about while I was doing it because I didn’t want to lose the edge. Now that it’s long gone and in the rear view mirror, I look back on it and realize I was able to accomplish something that most human beings can’t do.
I was very fortunate. I was able to play for a lot of great men throughout my career, playing for Joe Paterno and then Don Shula, the winningest coach in NFL history, then Tony Dungy, it was a great opportunity for me to learn different management styles that has helped me after my career was over. Playing for Mike Martz was a great treat, seeing how competitive he was. That inspired me to up my competitive level. Then with the Detroit Lions I played for Rod Marinelli. After starting the really important part of my career in Tampa Bay with him, to end it with him was a great treat. I played for a lot of great coaches and I played with many Hall of Fame players. It was just an excellent experience.
TR–Speaking of fond memories, do you remember the first time you saw yourself on a trading card?
TJ-It was when I was a player in Tampa Bay as I was signing autographs. I was wearing the old orange creamsicle uniform on the card. It was at a fan day in Tampa. The fans came out to get autographs. The team gave us a few items to sign but then fans could bring whatever they wanted, memorabilia wise. Someone presented me with my player card. I was like “Woah!” I had cards at Penn State but it was a little different. Everybody got a card. It was a great deal, don’t get me wrong, but to see yourself on your first NFL card, it was special. I still have a few around here to this day. It meant a lot for me to sign that one.
TR–So, you did hold on to a few of your own cards?
TJ-Oh, yeah. First of all, once I realized it was out I got my hands on a nice little box and spread it around amongst the family and friends. Back then no one else wanted the card but family and friends. I spread that around but I made sure I kept a couple of them. Over the years, I think I have only had three different cards. There were a few other things that were collectibles that I got my hands on. I started to realize as I got older that these are special memories and that I need to hold on to some of this stuff. I wish I held on to more!
TR–Speaking of signing autographs, do you remember the first time you were asked for yours?
TJ– I don’t remember the first time but what I can tell you is that sitting in study hall at Bishop McNamara High School in Forestville, Maryland, I spent many days daydreaming about one day playing college football on television. That was my only goal at that point. I didn’t even dream of the NFL. I used to practice my autograph. I just believed that one day somebody was going to ask me for it and I better have a good one. It goes to show that positive thoughts with action and hard work, a lot of times it pays off, more often than not.
TR–As you sat there in study hall, what NFL players did you look to for inspiration?
TJ– Certainly growing up in the Washington D.C. suburb of Maryland I was a big fan of the home NFL team in Washington. Dexter Manley was a terror on quarterbacks. When I moved from linebacker to defensive end, I tried to pattern myself after Dexter Manley. He was a great pass rusher. He was a fierce competitor. The off the field stuff I didn’t want to pattern myself after that but his on the field play inspired me. Bruce Smith was someone I admired and idolized. When I got on the same field as Bruce Smith and got to meet him I was like a kid in a candy store. I got a chance to meet Dexter Manley later on. That was an amazing experience. Those were the two guys who I would get goosebumps when I watched them play.
TR–The jersey swap phenomenon has become a huge tradition in recent years. Did you trade jerseys, helmets and other game used gear during your career?
TJ– Not too many people wanted mine. I was just an average guy out there but I certainly got ahold of some of my great teammate’s jerseys and got them framed. I wish I had gotten some more jerseys over the years. I played with the great Dan Marino who was so great to me as an undrafted rookie. He treated me with respect, which was amazing to me. I wish I had got his jersey.
In Tampa, I played with guys like Derrick Brooks and John Lynch. I wish I had got both of those guy’s jerseys. I wish I had Ronde Barber’s, too. That would have been amazing.
When I got to St. Louis I started to figure out that I better get some of these jerseys. I got Tory Holt and Marshall Faulk. In fact, when I was named team captain I got all of the captain’s jerseys and hung them up on the wall. We are talking about a bunch of Hall of Fame guys. I was probably the only guy that doesn’t need to be there. I got Aeneas Williams, who is in the Hall of Fame. I got Isaac Bruce who is in the Hall of Fame. Tory Holt will be in the Hall of Fame. Marshal Faulk, again, Hall of Famer. For some reason, I didn’t get Kurt Warner’s jersey. I should have gotten that. I was able to get my hands on a few though.
TR– What else do you have in your memorabilia collection?
TJ– I have a couple of things. I have a Dr. J signed jersey. I have a Lawrence Taylor signed jersey. That one means a lot to me. I have a Muhammad Ali signed picture, who is my favorite athlete of all time. I have stuff from guys who really meant a lot to me growing up. I need to get something from Serena Williams. To me, she is one of the more incredible athletes that has ever lived. I need to get ahold of something with her signature on it, one way or another, before it’s all said and done.