Friends, former teammates and coaches remember ‘ultimate teammate’ Solomon Jackson
Joe Licata vividly remembers a UB home game that he wasn’t particularly proud of.
The former UB football star quarterback had just thrown an interception and was distraught about his play.
Solomon Jackson then came up to Licata on the sidelines and told him “We’re going to need you. We’ll get you the ball back. Keep doing your thing. We believe in you.”
“That’s just him,” Licata said. “He always believed. He always had faith in his guys. He was an ultimate team player.”
For 10 seconds at Alumni Arena on Tuesday night, fans, students, UB Athletics administrators and members of the Buffalo and Miami Ohio men’s basketball teams stood together in silence to honor that ultimate team player.
Jackson died Monday night, one week after suffering a medical emergency at a team conditioning session off campus on Feb. 22.
UB Athletics, while releasing statements from Athletic Director Allen Greene and football head coach Lance Leipold, did not make current coaches and players available for comment Tuesday, and Jackson’s family could not be reached.
But some of Jackson’s peers, former teammates and high school administrators who spoke to The Spectrum are choosing to remember Jackson as more than just Buffalo’s sophomore defensive end, but a hard working and caring person with an infectious smile.
“He should be remembered as an outstanding person,” said Jackson’s Tucker High School principal James Jackson, who has no relation to Solomon. “Sometimes, we get caught up on the football piece … To me, he’ll always be remembered as a great person. I have three boys. If my boys end up being like Solomon – the way they carry themselves – then I’ve done a great job as a parent.”
James Jackson was getting ready for work Tuesday morning when he received a call from Jackson’s father, Steve, around 7:47 a.m. Steve told him Jackson had “gone on to glory.”
Initially, James Jackson felt shock. He couldn’t comprehend how this could happen to a person that he said has never had any known prior injury other than a pulled hamstring.
Mackenzie Loesing felt the same way.
Loesing, a former guard for the women’s basketball team, had a personal friendship with Jackson that went further than the UB Athletics community. When she first learned of Jackson’s passing, she was “devastated.”
Fighting back tears, Loesing described the first encounter she ever had with Jackson during student-athlete summer conditioning before UB students arrived to campus.
“He went into that big bear hug,” Loesing said. “That’s really representative of who he is as a person. He’s just a warm person from that first moment, he radiated warmth and wasn’t afraid to spread that contagious smile of his.”
It was a smile that affected everyone – from his student-athlete family to his close friends and even his former teammates.
Licata said he found out about Jackson’s death from Bulls freshman center James O’Hagan. He told Licata that the team had a meeting, where the news was broken to Jackson’s teammates.
Licata said it’s not easy to understand death, especially for a player he said seemed to have no prior health issues.
But Licata grieves the way he said Jackson would want the team to.
“I know everyone was very emotional. It’s tough. It’s our brother,” Licata said. “Everyone’s just trying to find positives, trying to think about the person that Solo was – the person that Solo is. He was an awesome friend. He was always very encouraging. If he were here, he’d encourage us to stay positive and keep trying to move forward.”
Jackson’s high school defensive coordinator and head coach Bryan Lamar remembers Solomon Jackson the player and the person.
When Jackson was a senior in high school, Lamar would pick him up every day from his house on their way to school. They rarely spoke business – that was left for the football field. Most of their conversations were about music and life.
“Solomon is as good of a kid as you’d want to be around,” Lamar said. “He had an infectious smile. He was an extremely hard worker, but he had a jovial smile. He was loved by everyone. I don’t think he had an enemy in the school.”
Jackson’s principal wishes he could have had a closer relationship with him, but the opportunity never arose, mostly because Jackson was never called into his office and never got in trouble.
“I’ve been in education for over 20 years and he’s as good of a kid as I’ve ever come across,” James Jackson said.
On the football field was a different story.
Jackson was “relentless,” according to Lamar. He never took days off. Jackson always went 100 percent at practice. Lamar considered Jackson “unblockable” during his senior season of high school.
Some of that translated to Buffalo last season. Jackson was a rising young player on the team’s defense and finished last season with 13 tackles and two sacks.
“It’s sad to think someone that genuinely good, that has such a bright future, a guy that could have been an NFL talent,” said Cletus Emokpae, a senior communication major. “And he was a genuinely good person.”
It always amazed Emokpae how Jackson never let being a football player succumb to his real personality. Emokpae said Jackson was one of the best people he had ever met in Buffalo.
Emokpae had planned on transferring to a school near Atlanta – close to Jackson’s hometown of Stone Mountain, Georgia. Emokpae did not know much about the culture of Atlanta, but Jackson did. Jackson proceeded to tell Emokpae everything he needed to know about being a student in Atlanta and offered to give advice had Emokpae ever needed it. Emokpae never went to Atlanta, but that story still resonates with him.
“It’s like he owed me that,” Emokpae said. “You don’t forget stuff like that.”
It still shocks Jackson’s friends that he is not with their respective communities anymore. Some will miss him for his laugh, others for his smile. Some will miss his ability to be a leader and ability to be the perfect teammate.
“The most amazing quality of Solomon is his love for people and everyone around him,” Lamar said. “He had selflessness about himself. You find kids that work hard. You find kids that are focused. But he was a genuinely caring person.”
Editor’s note: Cletus Emokpae worked as a Spectrum staff photographer in the fall of 2014.