LOS ANGELES (AP) -Coach Pete Carroll remembers Lawrence Jackson as being a bit out of step during his early days at Southern California. Now, he's a respected team leader about to complete an outstanding career for the Trojans.
And, thanks to an introduction by Carroll, the 6-foot-5, 263-pound defensive end is being mentored to a degree by New York Giants star Michael Strahan.
``It's been awesome to have him,'' Carroll said. ``This is a great story, kid from right down the street in Inglewood, and I've told him a lot he was a screwball when he was coming out. It took him about a semester, and he jumped on the academic trail and has done a marvelous job of that stuff.
andle himself in all situations.''
And, Carroll said, Jackson will excel in the NFL.
But first things first.
``It's kind of crazy to know that five years is coming down to this last game,'' Jackson said, referring to Saturday's matchup with crosstown rival UCLA at the Coliseum. ``I've had my ups-and-downs on the field, in the classroom. It feels good to know I've made it this far.''
The eighth-ranked Trojans (9-2, 6-2 Pac-10) can clinch their sixth straight Pac-10 championship and a Rose Bowl berth by beating the Bruins (6-5, 5-3).
``It's definitely exciting,'' Jackson said. ``Coach Carroll talks about playing your best football late in the year.''
USC had won seven straight games against UCLA before the Bruins beat the Trojans 13-9 last year, bouncing them out of the BCS championship game.
``We know what happened,'' Jackson said. ``We don't talk about it a lot.''
Jackson didn't agree with Carroll's assessment of his early days at USC.
``I wouldn't quite say screwball,'' Jackson said. ``I was a freshman. It was my first time on my own. It took me a while to figure out where I fit in.''
Once that happened, his career took off.
``When he first came here, I can see him being a screwball,'' freshman defensive end Everson Griffen said. ``Now look at him. Lawrence Jackson, he's just an awesome person to be around. He'll teach you on the field stuff, off the field stuff.''
After sitting out his first year at USC, Jackson earned a starting job before his second. He had the best statistical game of his career last week, getting a school record-tying four sacks and setting a new record with 5 1/2 tackles for losses in USC's 44-24 victory over Arizona State.
``He did have an extraordinary game. It wasn't just the four sacks,'' Carroll said. ``He just kept playing and things came to him. He got national recognition for player of the week and stuff and he really earned it.''
Jackson is playing at a lighter weight this year, and pointed to Strahan as a role model.
``You look at a guy like Strahan - he started out in the upper 200s. He's now playing at 260, 255,'' Jackson said. ``He's a guy I look up to on and off the field. The way he plays the game is so graceful. He's humble, he's got a lot of desire.
``If I can get some of his traits, I'll be fine.''
Jackson said Strahan was especially helpful last season, when he wasn't getting to the quarterback.
``Sacks - when they come, they come. When they don't, they don't,'' Jackson said. ``He was telling me to play the right way. The sacks will come. It's not really about you as a player.''
Speaking after practice Wednesday in East Rutherford, N.J., Strahan said he met Jackson in the summer of 2006, with Carroll setting it up. Strahan worked with Jackson and the other defensive ends at USC last offseason.
``It was amazing. Those guys are really good because they understand technique,'' Strahan said. ``He is one of those kids you don't ever worry about. He makes the right decisions, he does the right things. He is not a knucklehead at all.
``Lawrence is very focused. I'm probably more silly. He is more focused. He wants to learn. He wants to know every freaking thing.''
Strahan, a seven-time Pro Bowl defensive end playing his 15th season with the Giants, said Jackson will succeed in the NFL at least in part because of his attitude.
``He's big, strong, fast, aggressive and he wants to learn,'' Strahan said. ``That's the biggest thing. You have a lot of guys in college who are great players, but they get here and they say, 'I made it.' They don't want to learn any more and you see it.
``For him, I don't see that ever happening. He always wants to be better and learn. He is always watching everything so he doesn't limit himself to say I'm this type of player. He really wants to watch everybody.''
---
AP Sports Writer Tom Canavan in East Rutherford, N.J., contributed to this report.

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