Dane Jackson has spent the Buffalo Bills’ virtual offseason at home, attending team meetings on videoconference calls while his mother, Joy Faulkner, ducks past the camera as she enters and leaves the house.
A 2020 seventh-round pick out of the University of Pittsburgh, the cornerback moved more than four times growing up and has appreciated the time at home before changing places again.
"I'm so tired of moving, I don't even want to move my own self to Buffalo," Jackson said with a laugh. "I've been moving all my life."
The transient lifestyle dates to his time in high school, when he attended classes at one school but played football for another.
Jackson grew up in inner-city Pittsburgh and then moved roughly 30 minutes away to the small suburb of Coraopolis to attend Cornell High School. He played one season at Cornell before the school's football team folded and merged with nearby Quaker Valley High School in Leetsdale, Pennsylvania.
Jackson's prep career taught him how to acclimate to new environments, eventually propelling him to Pitt and then to a four-year contract with the Bills worth $3.376 million.
Once he gets to Buffalo, he'll have to earn the right to stay.
Last year's seventh-round picks, Darryl Johnson and Tommy Sweeney, made the Bills' roster, but Jackson enters a loaded cornerback room that features roster locks Tre'Davious White, Josh Norman, Levi Wallace and Taron Johnson. The Bills kept four pure cornerbacks in 2019, and Jackson will likely be competing with E.J. Gaines and any training camp invitees for a job.
"When you talk about our last pick ... there were several players [with] similar [grades] at different positions," Bills general manager Brandon Beane said. "And that was more, [who] do we think was going to have the best chance to make our roster? We felt that Dane and his skill set might have that best chance."
Jackson, 23, says the opportunity in Buffalo arrived because of his move to Coraopolis.
"I don't think I would be in this position if I didn't make that move," Jackson said. "It was a great experience and I'm grateful for it, but it was a hard transition for me. ... Having to adapt to a new culture -- I'm always being me, but they couldn't really relate to where I come from and everything I've been through."
Mom needed convincing
Going into his freshman year of high school, Jackson was set to attend school in Pittsburgh's Perry neighborhood until his cousin Dorian Maynard presented another option: Join him at Cornell.
The small school outside of Pittsburgh was no powerhouse; in fact, the team needed more players. But moving would get him out of the inner city.
"I told him it would be a little different for him -- more opportunities and less distractions," Maynor said. "In the inner city, there's a lot of negative distractions. In Coraopolis, you would be able to focus on just sports and school. You won't have to worry about too much."
Never a fan of being too far from home, Jackson was hesitant. He lived in Greenway with his mother and younger sister, Kennedy, but attending Cornell would mean leaving them and moving into his aunt's home with Maynor. Jackson doesn't remember the last time he saw his father, so leaving his mother was not something he took lightly.
"Without her guidance and encouragement throughout my life, I wouldn't be sitting in this position," Jackson said. "She showed us what resilience is, what strong is, what overcoming is."
He came around to the idea of moving, but Faulkner was far less enthusiastic.
"Absolutely not," she said, regarding her initial response to Jackson's request. "That's my son, I just couldn't see me not being around him daily. I understood why, [but] it took a lot of convincing."
Faulkner relented, knowing her sister and brother-in-law would take good care of her son. For Jackson, being away from his mother and sister was draining.
"I'm not a guy where I want to be away from close family like that -- not to say my aunt isn't close family," he said. "Me and my cousin would share a room and we're both 6-foot, 180 [pounds]. ... Even though it was my aunt, I wasn't comfortable doing the things I'd do at home at her house."
Faulkner said Jackson called her daily. Moving was his idea, but he soon told Faulkner he wanted to come back. She didn't let him. But, after a year of living apart, she moved to Coraopolis following Jackson's freshman season which brought some stability. Faulkner traveled an hour to and from her job as a paralegal in downtown Pittsburgh each day and wasn't always available to pick Jackson up from practices, but they were together again.
"It was something that I had to get used to," Faulkner said. "But it was all worth it."
Cornell canceled its football program before Jackson's sophomore year, so he attended classes there, and then he and his teammates took a short bus ride to Quaker Valley. It offered better facilities, a larger roster and a more affluent student body than he had been around before.
Luckily for Jackson and his Cornell transplants, their football coach made the move with them.
Come on, Superman
Ed Dawson heard about Jackson even before coaching him at Cornell but didn't hear much from him.
Even with his athletic gifts, Jackson was a reserved teen when he arrived in Coraopolis, which Dawson more or less accepted. Then one practice, while playing scout team against Cornell's starting defense, Jackson weaved his way downfield for a long touchdown.
After the play, there was no emotion from Jackson. He simply jogged back to the huddle.
Dawson, the head coach at Cornell, had seen enough. "At that point, I realized this guy's going to need a little nudging [to come out of his shell]."
From that practice on, Dawson and Jackson's relationship took off. Even before Dawson took a job as an assistant coach on Quaker Valley's staff following its merger with Cornell's team, he was instrumental in getting Jackson used to his new environment.
"That's my main man right there. That's who got me out of my comfort zone when I got to Cornell," Jackson said of Dawson. "I was shy, I didn't really want to express myself. That's the man who did it for me.
"He would say 'Come on, Superman, put the cape on' to me all the time. 'You've got to get out from being shy and take over.'"
The motivational speeches continued at Quaker Valley, where Jackson became the team's starting quarterback as a junior. In his first game, the 2013 season opener against South Park, the Quakers were backed up to their own 2-yard line. During a timeout, Dawson had asked Jackson if he'd seen any Superman movies.
When Jackson said he had, Dawson asked: "Does Superman wait until everybody's dead to save the day?"
Jackson responded with a 98-yard touchdown run.
"We always joke, because I swear, as he ran down the sideline he looked at me like, 'Is this what you want?'" Dawson said.
That season, Quaker Valley made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Jackson had helped establish a new culture.
"He's a quiet leader that just comes in and every day does what he needs to do," Dawson said.
During an ordinary NFL offseason, rookies would already have been to their team's facilities for rookie camp and met most of their teammates during organized team activities. Instead, this year's class went through virtual training at home while awaiting an all-clear to move to their respective cities.
By all accounts, the past few months have been fairly unusual, but Jackson is used to operating under unusual circumstances.
"I've been faced with those situations my whole life," he said. "I can't say that I'm the best at adapting, but I've definitely been in those situations a lot. It's a little smoother for me now."
His eventual trip to Buffalo might not be his only move with the Bills. Though he played mostly on the outside at Pittsburgh, Beane said in April that Jackson will get a chance to compete as a nickel corner.
"Everything is earned with the Bills," Jackson said. "That's always been my mentality even before I went to the Bills. I'm just ready to earn it."