When Ja’Quinden Jackson enrolled at the University of Utah in January, the University of Texas transfer says Aaron Lowe was the first player he met upon arrival.
It didn’t take a long for a rapport to build, a friendship to blossom. The fact Jackson is from Dallas and Lowe is from nearby Mesquite was surely one immediate talking point, but one thing above all else struck Jackson about Lowe, who was shot and killed Sept. 26 outside a house party in Sugar House.
“He was a loyal person,” Jackson said Monday afternoon following practice as Utah prepares to face USC on Saturday evening. “He would do anything, anything for you.”
Jackson, who lives in an off-campus apartment, remembers being on campus one particular day for class. On this day, he had left his Airpods at home, and since Jackson likes to listen to music while walking around campus, this was going to be a trying day.
Lowe, who was living in the dorms at the time, offered to go out of his way and drive Jackson back to his apartment to retrieve the Airpods.
“From that day on, I knew he was a solid dude,” Jackson said. “That was the big brother I always wanted. We were together every day. There wasn’t a day we weren’t together. If we weren’t, I’d call him up, hang out, go get something to eat, whatever.
“It’s going to be tough.”
Lowe’s death, and the grief and mourning that come along with it, are only compounding the grief and mourning surrounding Ty Jordan’s Christmas night death last year from an accidental, self-inflicted gunshot wound.
That is, the grief and mourning from the perspective of the Utah football program. In fairness, it’s from Jackson’s perspective as well. Just like Jackson was able to enjoy an intimate friendship with Lowe, he was also tight with Jordan.
Jackson says he met Jordan when they were both in the eighth grade during the 2015-16 academic year. In a lighthearted moment, Jackson smiled at the fact that West Mesquite High School is where he was supposed to go as a ninth grader, just as Jordan did. Jackson instead wound up at perennial Texas state championship contender Duncanville because “it was a better opportunity.”
Both players blossomed apart, then wound up together at Texas on the same official visit weekend, Sept. 21-23, 2018.
“We were all eating dinner, and he went to every table and grabbed something to eat,” Jackson joked. “He would eat a whole horse if he could, that man could eat.”
Jordan went to Utah, Jackson went to Texas. Jordan became Pac-12 Offensive Freshman of the Year, but Jackson, rehabbing a knee injury from late in his senior year at Duncanville, never saw the field.
Before Jackson decided to transfer, he reached out to Jordan to gauge how things were at Utah.
“He told me it’s love,” Jackson said. “He told me they take care of their players and really love their players.
“Unfortunately, he dipped out on us early.”
Jackson committed to Utah on Dec. 20, one day after the 2020 season ended and five days before Jordan’s death.
Between Lowe, Jordan and two childhood friends from Dallas, Jackson has had four people close to him die inside the past 18 months. With those losses acting as a backdrop, what stands before Jackson now, as he sees it, is the need to move forward.
“Honestly, it’s been weird,” Jackson, a second-year freshman quarterback, said. “Not seeing him every day, not seeing 22 in the back of the locker room smiling, walking around. It’s awkward and it’s never going to be the same, but we have to push forward. He would want us to do that.”
Jordan would want that, Lowe would want that, and really, what is the alternative? Utah has three-quarters of a football season still in front of it, and Jackson is beginning to at least find a role with these Utes.
In a 24-13 win over Washington State on Sept. 25, Jackson saw his first action as a collegian, rushing four times for 21 yards and a touchdown. All four of the carries came inside the Cougars’ 20-yard line as Jackson was utilized in a manner many thought he would be. Short-yardage, non-passing situations as Jackson is tough to bring down at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds.
Furthermore, with Charlie Brewer no longer on the roster, Jackson is Cam Rising’s backup, meaning he is now one snap away from becoming QB1.
No, there is no other choice but to plow forward, even if things are going to feel abnormal for the foreseeable future without Lowe around.
“It’s never going to be the same, but once you start to heal and actually get back to your normal self, things can get better,” Jackson said. “Right now, I’m still trying to process it, but it’s crazy. Those were the last people on earth I thought would leave early. It’s tough. You have to be strong. There’s people here depending on me, so you have to be strong about it and grind it out. I’m hurting from Ty, and things are now stacking on top of each other, but you still have people depending on you, people who still want to see you succeed.
“I’m playing for those guys, and I’m playing for the ones that are still here.”