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Bucs’ Vincent Jackson puts down firm roots in Tampa

Vincent Jackson makes his living with his hands as one of the NFL's top receivers. But he wasn't afraid to put those large mitts to work dipping paint brushes and driving nails into walls with a hammer hours before the double doors swung open last week for a VIP event at his upscale restaurant, Cask Social, in South Tampa.

"You should've seen me. I think I was over there at 3 o'clock hammering nails and putting touch-up paint on the walls," said Jackson, entering his fourth season with the Bucs. "You're literally getting the last chair and napkin set five minutes before you say, 'Come on in.' "

The restaurant's loft bar, dining room and spacious patio soon were full of smiling waiters serving craft drinks and Southern dishes such as shrimp and grits, and chicken and waffles. Jackson has invested in at least a half-dozen restaurants, but he has had a more personal involvement in setting a warm tone for Cask Social.

"This one — just because I know I'm going to be in Tampa a long time, and I live literally five minutes away — I really want to have more of a stamp on this one and have fun," he said. "It's a great location.

"I know what's right in this town. My town."

That Jackson, 32, plans to call Tampa his permanent home may not come as a surprise unless you know the transient background of the three-time Pro Bowl player who grew up moving from city to city with parents in the military.

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It wasn't easy always being the new kid, the new player, trying to fit in, having to play catchup in school and finish the curriculum in three months in order to be passed to the next grade, only to repeat the ordeal after another deployment.

He has devoted his off-field life, through his Jackson in Action 83 Foundation, to helping military families, focusing on the educational and emotional and physical health of children.

"Tampa is home, absolutely," Jackson said. "I felt that way pretty early when I got here. I don't know if it's just the Southern hospitality or what it is.

"When I got here, it just felt comfortable to me; it felt right. Great people. This city has everything you want. It's a good size. It's a big-small city, and it's growing. There are so many opportunities here on the business side of it. The fact that it's a young city …there are so many positive things about this area. Great schools. Great place to raise a family."

Jackson's ability to adapt has been beneficial during his career with the Bucs, whom he joined as a free agent from the Chargers in March 2012. In the past three seasons, Jackson has played for two head coaches, three offensive coordinators, four receivers coaches and five quarterbacks. Yet at an age when few players have anything left in the tank, Jackson has consistently churned out 1,000-yard receiving seasons — six straight dating to 2008 in years he completed. (He played only five games in 2010 with the Chargers.)

"It's kind of the way I grew up, my military background," Jackson said. "I talk about this a lot when I meet with families and kids about the military lifestyle. You have to deal with change; you have to adapt to environments. There are situations that aren't expected but happen sometimes, and some things are inevitable. You have to wait for it. It's not something you're looking forward to, but it's coming. You have to get your mind right, prepare for it and do the best that can."

• • •

As he sat in the Bucs' dining room on the final day of mandatory minicamp this week, the 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jackson didn't look like a player who has withstood the rigors of 10 seasons. He said he would like to play at least two more years, when his five-year, $55 million contract expires, though coaches tell him he could play four more seasons.

"When I was in my fifth year (in the league), I said I think 12 would be a good number for me," he said. "That was kind of a number that popped in my head. I thought that would be a solid career and I could accomplish most of the things I wanted to accomplish. Now that I'm here at 11 and I'm feeling as good as I am, they're going to keep pushing me a little bit, and I understand that.

"I would love to stay here in Tampa. That's my goal. I want to be a part of this transition. Be a part of (coach) Lovie (Smith's) transition, change the culture the way (coach) Tony Dungy did back in the day. I want to be a part of that, leave my imprint on that. Get this back to being a playoff team. That's what I want to do."

Jackson is where you go for the barometric pressure of the team, a guy who knows whether storm clouds are gathering or if sunny days are ahead.

The arrival of rookie quarterback Jameis Winston and offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter has lifted the gray blanket that was last year's 2-14 season. And Jackson is sold on Winston's talent.

"I'm impressed with the guy," said Jackson, a 2005 second-round pick out of Northern Colorado by the Chargers. "I didn't know much about him until he got here. I knew he had physical skills. Obviously, someone who has won a national championship (2013 season at Florida State), he can play some ball. But I didn't know his aptitude and his ability to really pick up this game professionally and the speed of it, make reads and take control of the offense the way a quarterback has to at this level. And he's done that.

"Is he still a young guy and a rookie? Yes, but every rookie is, whether they're a receiver or a lineman. You see the same mistakes. But the good thing about this guy is the fact that he's not repeating the same mistakes. He's making improvement every day. And when he does make a mistake, guess what he does? He gets right back in that huddle and says, 'Let's go.' You'll see him throw a pick, and then he'll come back and throw two touchdowns in a row. That's impressive."

This morning, while other players scatter to enjoy six weeks of vacation before training camp, Jackson will return to One Buc Place to host his third annual youth football camp for 150 kids of military families, many stationed at MacDill Air Force Base.

Jackson will be at the door, telling them to come on in, making them feel at home.

Just a player and a city that need each other passionately.



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