Cheetahs don't need to stretch.
That was something DeSean Jackson used to say. When he remembered and delivered that line on Thursday morning at his introductory press conference, it received plenty of laughs. But that's the way he used to look at it.
Key words: used to.
"I could just wake up out my bed and go run," Jackson said.
Thursday was not the first time Jackson's longtime trainer, Gary Cablayan, heard about cheetahs.
"When you get older, I told him, you just have to be smarter with training," Cablayan said to NBC Sports Philadelphia over the phone Thursday afternoon. "It's just a balance of knowing his body and that's why he's been good for so long, because he stayed with the same group. We know his body inside and out. We know how much he can handle, how much he can't."
But back when he was in his early 20s, Jackson considered himself a cheetah. He was a naturally-gifted, world-class athlete with world-class speed. He didn't need to take care of his body.
These days, he's still lightning-fast, but Jackson is 32 as he enters his second stint with the Eagles. You gotta stretch to stretch the field. He's learned that. Cablayan and others have helped.
Cablayan, who has known Jackson from the age of 8 and has trained him for decades, has watched DeSean learn about how to take care of his body over the years. The track/speed coach based in California, who has trained Olympic athletes, is a part of a group of people that has been helping Jackson hone his craft and his speed since Pop Warner. On Thursday, Jackson credited that group, calling Cablayan one of the best track coaches in the world.
The moment that really led to Jackson's newfound understanding of preserving his body, Cablayan thinks, was when Jackson strained his hamstring in the 2015 season opener as a member of the Redskins. Jackson missed the next six games, including a home game against the Eagles.
Cablayan flew out to help work on his hamstring and get him back on the field, but Jackson didn't play again until Nov. 8, after the Redskins' bye week.
"God has a way of slapping you back to reality," Cablayan said. "He just realized, ‘Man, that could have been the end of my career.'"
Now, Jackson does the little things. If he needs some extra time in the hot tub, he stays in the hot tub a little longer. If he needs to get to work early one day, he gets to work early that day. If he needs to stretch, he stretches. He parties less. It's all apart of his overall maturation process. Jackson isn't coming back to Philadelphia as the same guy who left five years ago.
What Jackson has been doing recently has been working. Even on the wrong side of 30, he still has his speed. He led the NFL in yards per catch (18.9) in 2018. It was the fourth time in his career he's done it. And it happened eight years after his first.
(Photo courtesy of Gary Cablayan)
Jackson had to learn how to take care of his body. He didn't have to learn how to be confident. The man who showed up to his press conference in shades and dripping in ice has always had that bravado.
One story in particular stuck out to Cablayan. DeSean was about 15 or 16 when Cablayan's father, Jerry Cablayan, was training a Puerto Rican sprinter named Jorge Richardson. Richardson actually competed in the 2000 Summer Olympics. Cablayan thinks Jackson had never really used starting blocks before, but that didn't stop him from challenging a world-class sprinter.
It was just a little 10-yard race to judge reaction time out of the blocks.
"The funny thing was," Cablayan said, "he actually did beat him."
There's no question that Jackson still has that same swagger - probably more - today.
(Photo courtesy of Gary Cablayan)
Can he keep it up?
This is the big question. Jackson is still fast, but how long will that speed last?
And how long does he want to keep playing?
"I don't know, man," Jackson said. "I wish I could tell you. Going on my 12th year and I'm 32, but I still feel like I'm running and playing like a 26-year-old. As long as I'm able to stay healthy, and not take any serious hits or serious injuries, I'm going to be here. I want to end my career here. I'm happy I was able to come back here and finish off where I started."
The good news is that Jackson is still fast and he still works with the folks he's worked with his whole life, including Cablayan, who is the CEO/director of performance at Evo Sports Training in Southern California. Guys like Cablayan and Darrick Davis have been around Jackson his entire life and have helped get the most out of him. Jackson heads back to California each offseason to train with them.
This version of DeSean Jackson is committed to taking care of his body. He wants to extend his career.
Even if that means making a cheetah stretch.
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