The turning point of Demetrius Jackson's football career at The Citadel came not on the practice field or during a game at Johnson Hagood Stadium.
It came on a fall day late in 2007, in the office of Bulldogs coach Kevin Higgins.
"It felt like his bags were literally packed to go when he walked into my office," Higgins recalled this week.
Jackson, then a freshman defensive back from Columbus, Ga., had acquitted himself well on the field, playing in nine games as a rookie on the 2007 team that went 7-4.
But off the field was another matter. Jackson, who grew up without knowing his father, had family issues at home and was feeling homesick and a bit lonely at The Citadel.
"Coming (to The Citadel) was a big change for me," Jackson says now. "I had a lot to get used to."
It all came to a head that day when Jackson reported to the coach's office.
"When Demetrius came here, he was as unfamiliar with The Citadel as anybody we've recruited," Higgins said. "There was nothing in his background to allow him to have a good understanding of what this is about.
"So when he came in that day, he said, 'Coach, without a doubt, I am leaving. This is it.' "
Higgins talked to Jackson about why he should stay, about what life could look like with a Citadel degree in hand, and asked him a question: "What are you going to do back home?"
Armed with that perspective, Jackson went home to Columbus for Christmas break and took a look around.
"Coach gave me all the stats about the players who leave The Citadel, and how they go home and don't do anything with their selves," Jackson said. "But when I went home for Christmas, I saw it with my own two eyes. That's what really made me decide to stay."
The encouragement of teammate and classmate Mel Capers, then a freshman from Fort Dorchester High School, also helped.
"We came in together, and he really embraced me into his home when I had no place to go," Jackson said. "He helped me a lot, always telling me to take it one day at a time and not to focus on the negative."
Learning about his father also has made a difference. In addition to his mother, Tuwanna, Jackson has always turned to his uncle, George, for guidance. George was a walk-on at Valdosta State and understood life as a college football player.
But in the summer of 2009, Jackson met his father for the first time and learned about siblings he had never known.
"It was bittersweet," he said. "It had been 20 years of my life that I never knew him, and I felt like I had grown up without him, that I didn't need him. But when we met, I realized how much we were alike. Now, we talk a lot, and our relationship has grown a whole lot."
It all has led to a full-fledged turnaround for the 5-10, 188-pound safety in his senior season. Jackson has emerged as a team leader and top playmaker, taking a blocked field goal and an interception back for touchdowns in the season opener against Chowan.
"He's not a real vocal guy in public or with reporters," Higgins said. "But within the chemistry of the team, he speaks."
And he's doing it wearing uniform No. 4, to honor his friend Capers, who had to give up football last season with a neck injury. Jackson switched from No. 1.
"He surprised me with that," Capers said. "But it means a lot to me, to have a senior out there representing my number. And I know he will represent it well."