DETROIT — It's like deja vu all over again.
A former Richmond Senior linebacker sitting in Hamlet watching the NFL draft, expecting his phone to ring with a general manager or coach on the other end to welcome him to their team.
Except that call never came and Justin Jackson relived the nightmare of Dannell Ellerbe.
The draft slight ended up paying off big time for Ellerbe, who signed with the Baltimore Ravens in 2009 as an undrafted free agent. Ultimately, Ellerbe made the team and ended up playing a big role in the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers. He is now with the Miami Dolphins after signing as a free agent last summer.
Jackson hopes to follow Ellerbe's path to the NFL. Jackson signed with the Detroit Lions as an undrafted free agent and is currently working out with the team.
Just like Ellerbe felt five years ago, Jackson was shocked he wasn't one of the 256 players selected in the seven-round draft last weekend.
“I really expected to get drafted,” Jackson said. “The Lions told me I was probably going somewhere between the fifth and seventh round. I guess they ended up going in a different direction.”
Jackson's father, Arthur, said it was nerve-wracking watching team after team bypass his son. He said during the final rounds they would all jump in excitement when the phone would ring, expecting this one to bring the good news.
“It was like a roller coaster, when he would get a call you think this is it. It was teams wanting to make sure this was the right number for him,” Arthur Jackson said. “I kind of expected him to be playing (in the NFL), but it makes you wonder if your son is as good as you thought he is. I kinda got shook.”
At the conclusion of the draft, Jackson's phone started ringing again as both Detroit and Pittsburgh offered him a free agent contract. Jackson said it didn't take him long to make his pick.
“I made the decision 10 minutes after the draft was over,” Jackson said. “The next day I was on a plane to Detroit.”
One of the reasons Jackson believes the Lions maintained their interest in him throughout the drafting process is new head coach Jim Caldwell, who also was the head coach at Wake Forest.
Despite the Wake Forest connection with Caldwell, Jackson understands he will be fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster and is willing to do what it takes to find a role with the Lions. He said he is happy to work with the special team units, something he did at both Richmond and Wake Forest.
Jackson talked about being a little star-struck with the opportunity to play with veteran players like Ndamukong Suh, Calvin Johnson and Reggie Bush. He had to remind himself he faced similar players every Saturday in the ACC.
“I feel like I'm in a good situation because the veterans are having to learn a new system too, so I'm not that far behind,” Jackson said.
Detroit's rookie minicamp is scheduled to begin Friday and run until Sunday.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.