IOWA CITY, Iowa – Jestin Jacobs could have taken the easy choice. He could have stayed in his home state and accepted a scholarship offer from Ohio State’s football program.
But the linebacker from Englewood, Ohio, decided to take a different route to the Big Ten. He selected Iowa as his school of choice.
“I’m definitely happy I made the decision,” said Jacobs, a junior who is expected to start at the Cash/Leo position for the Hawkeye defense this season. “It gave me a new challenge, coming out and meeting a new set of people. I was around someone totally different, instead of being around my hometown friends with distractions from home.”
Not that everything was easy from the get-go. It’s taken some time for the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Jacobs, who enrolled in 2019, to work his way to the top of the depth chart.
“A lot of other guys want to be on the field besides the starters,” Jacobs said. “And you get frustrated if you’re not. But at the end of the day you have to realize that if you keep putting the work in, then that day will come. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t frustrating at times. Because as a competitor you always want to be out there, and feel like you should be out there. You also have to make sacrifices for the team. That was a big thing that I had to learn. It wasn’t necessarily about me. Maybe my teammate was actually doing better than me. That was a humbling thing.”
Instead of taking the easy route, Jacobs made an adjustment. He watched, and learned. And he listened to some very important people.
“I think what helped me most was just leaning on my teammates,” Jacobs said.
Jacobs also carried baggage that most of his teammates didn’t have to deal with. Ohio State’s offer carried plenty of expectations with it. If the Buckeyes want you, you must be good. Right?
“Just because I was offered by Ohio State doesn’t mean I’m going to come here and be great,” Jacobs said. “You’ve got to put in the time and the work so you can get there. I only worry about my expectations, and the expectations of my own teammates. As long as I’m meeting those expectations then I’m fine. I don’t worry about the outside noise.”
Jacobs arrived last season. He shared the Cash/Leo position with Dane Belton, starting eight games there. Belton started the other six games, as well as eight games at strong safety, and tied for fourth nationally in interceptions with five. Jacobs had a pick of his own, one of an NCAA-leading 25 for coach Phil Parker’s defense.
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Belton, a first-team all-Big Ten selection last season, skipped his final season of eligibility to enter the NFL Draft. The New York Giants took him in the fourth round, the 114th player selected overall.
Jacobs logged valuable time on the field last season, logging 63 tackles in 14 games. And that experience will come in handy in 2022. He’s zeroed in on improving on the mental side of the game this summer.
“Just understanding why we’re running things or what we’re running,” he said. “That’s been a major focus of mine. Just so I can play faster on the field, so I’m not always thinking when I get out there. I’ll be reacting, because I’ll know everything that’s going on, why we’re doing it and what we’re expecting.”
The secret to the mental part of the game is in the preparation, specifically film work. He’ll dive into certain situations – second and 7, third and long or plays in the red zone, for example – to see what teams do and how he needs to react to them.
“With technology today, you can do pretty much everything,” Jacobs said. “It definitely helps you for all the different scenarios you might face.”
Jacobs loves the position he plays, and the way it tests his skills on the field.
“It’s fun to be out in space,” Jacobs said. “It’s definitely challenging. It gives you a challenge on every play. Every down, you have to be on your toes, whether you’re going against a wide receiver or a tight end. But I love the challenge. I welcome it.”
He’s also firing questions at teammates and starting linebackers Jack Campbell and Seth Benson, looking for pointers to make him a better player.
“I feel like we feed off each other’s energy,” Jacobs said. “Both have extreme knowledge of the game. That’s why this summer I wanted to put an emphasis on that, just hearing them talk about the game and how they operate, and seeing how they operate. It definitely helps me want to become a better player.”
The 2022 schedule includes a trip back home for Jacobs. The Hawkeyes play at Ohio State on Oct. 22. Jacobs has attended a few games at Ohio Stadium, but said he wasn’t a diehard Buckeyes fan growing up. But playing in a Big Ten game in his home state will be a big deal.
“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t excited about it,” Jacobs said. “It’s an opportunity to play back in Ohio, in front of my friends and family. It’s definitely a game I’m looking forward to.”