Sumter has a long history of successful defensive lineman. Just in the last few years, players like Raymond Johnson have made it to the NFL, while Justus Boone earned a scholarship to play at Florida. The next player on that list is Davin Jackson.
His rise to stardom, however, has had some roadblocks.
Jackson, affectionally known as DJ, broke onto the scene as a sophomore in 2019. He was playing alongside Boone, and the duo lit up opposing defenses. DJ finished that season with 20 tackles for loss and seven sacks, leading the team in both statistics.
Amid his early stardom, offers started to flow in.
"It was Georgia Tech," DJ said, recounting his first offer. "It was during the summer. Me and siblings were outside playing, and my mom called me in the house was like, 'DJ, someone wants to talk to you on the phone.'
"I thought they couldn't talk to us until the 11th grade, so I was excited. Coach (Mark) Barnes texted my mom and said to call this number, and it was Georgia Tech. I didn't even know they were looking at me. I called it, and they offered me on the spot."
The person that broke the news to DJ was the person that introduced him to athletics and just about everything else. Anyone who has ever met DJ or his mom, Emileigh Thynes, knows that they are inseparable.
"She definitely almost cried," DJ said of his mom sharing the news of that first offer. "She was very excited for me."
DJ's dad wasn't always around growing up, but Thynes always was. That built a strong bond that has lifted DJ through all his ups and downs.
"Growing up, it was in and out with my dad, so my mom, that's my best friend, my number one supporter," DJ said. "It's been a blessing to have her in my life. She's pushed me into everything. She's never missed a game for me. Wrestling, track, any of that, she's always been there. I've got the No. 1 mom."
Thynes introduced DJ to the world of sports and pushed him to thrive. She also pushed him to keep getting better even when he was getting the attention of Division I college football programs.
"She never really tells me I do great and anything," the Sumter senior said with a laugh. "She always picks on me and things like that, which makes me want to go harder. She always picks on me. She always tells me I'm not the No. 1. Someone is always better than me, so it just makes me work harder."
A ROAD BLOCK
And DJ has worked hard. As a sophomore, he weighed 220 pounds. Since then, he's bulked up to 285. One of the things that helped DJ harness that new size was wrestling. As a defensive lineman, there are a lot of skills that transfer from the mat to the gridiron.
"It helped a ton, especially with my balance and handwork," DJ said. "Since I'm a D-lineman, I've got to know how to use my hands and get leverage on a guy. It definitely helped me with that a lot. I worked on my hand fighting a ton and also my stamina."
With hard work, DJ was even better as a junior. He racked up 26 tackles for loss, more than double the next Gamecock. He also had four and a half sacks and batted down three passes at the line of scrimmage. DJ was part of a dominant defensive front. Boone was playing in his senior season and sophomore Monteque Rhames was starting to become the next Sumter defensive linemen to get DI attention.
"It was a great season. We loved it. I think we had one of the best D-lines ever that came through Sumter High," DJ said. "I took up the middle since Tajon (Roach) had the injury earlier in the season. It was basically me in the middle. I used to take on some double, triple teams, so even if I missed the tackle, I knew one of them guys was there to get it."
DJ was heading into his senior season with a ton of momentum. He was going to camps and talking with a ton of college coaches, trying to narrow down his college choice.
That's when he made a fateful trip to Clemson.
DJ and Rhames made the trip to Clemson to attend a camp. He was running through drills, but when he went to change directions, he felt something wrong in his right knee. He jogged off the field and tried to get back into the action after resting for a bit, but his biggest supporter had other plans.
"My mom made me sit out the whole camp. She was there watching me the whole time, and she knew something was wrong, but I kind of toughened up. I didn't feel too bad, but she still made me sit out," DJ said. "I didn't feel like it was that bad until I actually sat in the car for a three-hour ride. I tried to get out the car when I got home, and I couldn't move my leg. So, I had to get my mom to carry me into the house I sat down, and I just couldn't move before like a good two days. That's what I knew something was really wrong. "
That something wrong turned out to be a torn ACL. DJ was going to miss his entire senior season.
Suddenly, DJ had a decision to make. He hadn't committed to a college yet. Without a senior season to look forward to, there was no point in waiting. He decided to pull the trigger and choose North Carolina State.
"I wasn't gonna play my senior season, so I was like, 'God gave me this NC State offer for a reason. He knew I could do it here,'" DJ said. "They produce great D linemen. I feel like it's a great team. They're great this year, but they're gonna be even better next year. I feel like this next four or three years, it's gonna be great."
COME BACK STRONGER
After an ACL injury, DJ had a long road to travel before he would be in a position to play college football. He had surgery quickly after learning his ACL was torn. Then he almost immediately went to work on rehab. This fall, he's worked with Sumter's head trainer, Gary Nelson, while also traveling to Columbia for physical therapy at Apex.
"After I had my surgery, it was probably like four days," DJ said of his rehab process. "Luckily, I think we have the best trainer even in coach Nelson. He pushes me hard. We have fun and we get it going. I really am blessed to have him as a trainer."
It was slow at first. DJ started by doing a lot of leg raises and calf raises with no weight. Then he started riding a stationary bike. Like everything else, he refused to take the easy way.
"We got on the bike, and he wanted me to start off backwards because he said it was easier, but I started forwards," DJ said. "He was pretty surprised by that."
As DJ progressed, he started adding weight to his leg raises and eventually started running a few weeks ago. Now he's been able to start lifting weight again. It's a slower process than he'd like, but he can feel the progress he's making.
"It's tough. You always want to get stronger, but I know it's a long process, so I'm going to take it slow and get my knee back to full health," DJ said. "It feels great. I started off with a little bit of a limp, but I'm starting to get faster and I'm starting to get my stamina back up."
Despite the injury, DJ has been on the sideline supporting his teammates all season long. While he hates to miss his senior season, he appreciates having the chance to help his teammates from the sideline.
"It sucks not being able to play, but I love seeing my brothers play and helping them out on the sideline," DJ said. "I can see what they can't see, so I can help them out."
DJ hopes to head to NC State after an early graduation this December, but that isn't set in stone.
The Wolfpack can only have a certain number of players formally with the team at one time, so he needs to wait and see how many players elect to enter the draft or move on from the program. DJ will get that news in the first week of December.
If he's not able to start with the team in the spring, he has a backup plan.
"If not, I'll probably stay here and take come college classes online and get stronger in the weight room," DJ said.
Whenever it happens, DJ is excited to make the jump to playing college football in the ACC.
"It's going to be fun. I'm ready for it. The fans and everything. It's going to be crazy," DJ said. "I can't even explain it. It's amazing."
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