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Jackson returns to Rutgers, going from worst to first

PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) — Seconds after the game between No. 2 Ohio State and Rutgers ended, there was a meeting of offensive linemen near midfield.

It was a bunch of guys wearing Rutgers jerseys mobbing Buckeyes offensive lineman Jonah Jackson. The game was a homecoming of sorts for Jackson, and Scarlet Knights captain Zach Venesky was enjoying the get-together.

Jackson is one of his best friends and a major reason Venesky is a captain this year. Jackson’s decision to transfer after last season to attend Ohio State as a graduate student opened up that leadership role.

“It was cool seeing him,” said Venesky, who still texts with Jackson regularly. “We experienced a lot of things together, a lot of hardships. I consider him a brother, so it’s cool seeing him have success.”

Jackson has gone from one of the all-time worst Big Ten football programs to the penthouse of Power Five football. The former Rutgers captain is now the starting left guard for Ohio State.

Things were going well for Jackson at Rutgers personally. He became an honorable mention All-Big Ten pick by the coaches and media and an Academic All-Big Ten honoree following his senior season. However, the team was struggling. Rutgers went 1-11 and things didn’t look to be on the upswing for coach Chris Ash, who was fired after a 1-3 start to this season.

After graduating, Jackson entered the transfer portal. The 6-foot-4, 305-pounder who grew up in Pennsylvania as a Rutgers and Ohio State fan opted to make the move to Columbus, Ohio. He went from playing home games in a half-empty stadium in New Jersey to playing in front of more than 100,000 fans in the Horseshoe.

It’s been a great year for Jackson. Ohio State is 10-0 overall and in the hunt for a national title.

Rutgers (2-8, 0-7) has now lost 19 straight conference games and has not beaten a team from a Power Five conference in 21 tries.

“Obviously, you know, it’s not something you wish upon any team,” Jackson said. “But being in the position I am and now — I’m just blessed, and I can’t thank God enough.”

After the game, the current Rutgers linemen missed singing the alma mater with the rest of the team to hug Jackson and share a few words and a group picture.

Jackson was the last player to leave the field, with a group of fans chanting his name as he jogged up the familiar tunnel — this time taking a left into the visitors’ locker room rather than going up the stairs and into the Hale Center.

“It was awesome,” Jackson said. “I basically grew up here for four years of my adult life and to be able to see the guys I grew up with and the coaches and the staff and everything, it was a great experience.”

With the 56-21 win on Saturday, his current team has won 16 games in a row and is in position for its third straight Big Ten championship. Winning the conference title would likely put the Buckeyes into the College Football Playoff for the third time in its six-year existence. Ohio State won the inaugural CFP national championship in 2015.

“It wasn’t tough, you know, it’s mandatory to come here for the game,” Jackson quipped. “But there was definitely emotion into it for sure because this is somewhere I put a lot of time into and was at four years and graduated college from, so that’s a pretty big thing.”

The Buckeyes host No. 9 Penn State next week before traveling to Ann Arbor to take on archrival No. 12 Michigan. A win over Penn State would secure a spot in the Big Ten title game for the third straight year. The Scarlet Knights host Michigan State before traveling to Penn State, their last chances to avoid a two-year conference skid.

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