It’s not often you see a starting wide receiver at a Power Five school enter the transfer portal during the last week of March. The transfer portal floodgates usually open early in the winter, typically within a few weeks of bowl season.
But when Giles Jackson decided to end his time in Ann Arbor this past offseason, that’s exactly what happened. Following the Michigan football team’s spring practice slate, Jackson — then a junior wide receiver — left the Wolverines for Washington. The untimely transfer, coupled with the decommitment of four-star prospect Xavier Worthy, set Michigan back at the receiver position.
A 5-foot-9, 190-pound California native, Jackson established himself as one of the Wolverines’ most versatile skill players. Michigan featured him in the passing game, run game and as a kick returner. Over his 18-game career, he turned 36 offensive touches into 383 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including a game-opening score against Ohio State in 2019. In his Washington debut, he recorded four catches for 15 yards.
Jackson made his biggest mark on special teams, though. He returned a kickoff to the house in each of his two seasons with Michigan and often ignited the Wolverines’ special teams unit.
Now, he’s set to return to the Big House as a visitor. As the game approaches, his old teammates are handling it in different ways.
“Definitely weird,” sophomore receiver Roman Wilson said Tuesday. “I can say we were pretty close. We were definitely friends. … I feel like I might not even see him at the game besides from the sidelines. Like, I never play a rep against him or something.”
While that may be the case for Michigan’s receivers, the opposite is true for its defense. The same defensive backs who spent countless practices lining up across from Jackson will have the chance to do it in an actual game. Now, though, the stage is a premier non-conference night game on national television rather than a Monday afternoon at Al Glick Field House.
Chief among those former teammates is junior defensive back Daxton Hill, who made his nickel corner debut last week. Assuming he remains in that role, he’ll be Jackson’s primary matchup in the slot on Saturday night.
“I went up against him like every other day,” Hill said. “That was the matchup.”
Michigan’s coaching staff, too, is bracing for Jackson’s return. When offensive coordinator Josh Gattis was first hired in 2019, Jackson was one of the first signees he got to know. He sold Jackson on his “speed in space” vision and spent two years as his position coach, forming a tight relationship in the process.
“I’ve got a tremendous amount of respect for Giles,” Gattis said Wednesday. “Obviously, we were close. Me coming in at the end of his recruitment and obviously coaching him. Love him like I always did, but for us it’s about focusing on the guys on our team. Everyone’s going to make personal decisions for themselves.”
From a coach’s perspective, Jackson’s return is cause for concern. He knows the Wolverines’ scheme as well as anybody, which should give the Huskies’ defense a leg up on Saturday. And given the late timing of his transfer, Jackson was on hand for any adjustments made during spring ball. Gattis brushed off the prospect of this possible advantage on Wednesday, but it’s reasonable to expect Jackson played a major role in Washington’s defensive preparations this week.
For some Michigan players, however, their shared connection will go out the window when the teams take the field Saturday night. By kickoff, Jackson will be just another Husky.
“We look at it as a faceless opponent, so really not going to pay it too much mind,” sophomore receiver A.J. Henning said Monday. “Off the field, there’s a relationship there. On the field, it’s different.”