Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson killed in car accident at 24 (2024)

Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson, the 108th overall pick in this year's NFL draft, died in a three-car crash that also killed two of his high school teammates early Saturday morning in Maryland. He was 24.

State Police said Jackson and Isaiah Hazel, 23, were pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which occurred shortly after 3 a.m. on Route 4 in Upper Marlboro. Anthony "A.J." Lytton Jr., 24, was taken to the University of Maryland Capital Region Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

Police said Hazel was driving a Dodge Charger, with Jackson in the front passenger's seat and Lytton in the back of the car, when the driver of an Infiniti Q50 tried to change lanes and pass the Charger at high speed. The Q50 struck the Charger, which slid off the road and hit multiple tree stumps before stopping.

After hitting the Charger, the Q50 then struck a Chevrolet Impala. Neither the Impala's driver nor the three people in the Q50 were hurt, police said.

Investigators said alcohol might have contributed to the crash. Police said charges were pending.

"We are devastated by the news of Khyree Jackson's death following an overnight car accident," the Vikings said in a statement. "While we work to gather more information, we have spoken to Khyree's family and offered the support of the Minnesota Vikings.

"We have also communicated the news to Vikings players, coaches and staff, and have offered counseling for those who need emotional support. Our thoughts are with Khyree's family, friends, teammates and coaches, as well as all the victims of this tragic accident."

Jackson arrived in Minnesota after an improbable journey to the NFL. He had quit football and was working at a Harris Teeter grocery store and Chipotle restaurant before returning to the sport. He eventually became a starter at the universities of Alabama and Oregon.

His size and tenacity drew the attention of a Vikings team that needed both. General Manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah said in a statement Saturday that Jackson's personality "captured every room he was in."

"As we got to know him throughout the predraft process, it was clear the goals Khyree wanted to accomplish both professionally and personally," Adofo-Mensah said. "His story was one of resilience. He was taking steps to become the best version of himself not just for him, but for those who cared about and looked up to him.

"I'm devastated that his life and everything he had in front of him has been cut short."

Coach Kevin O'Connell said in a statement that he was "absolutely crushed." He said Jackson "brought a contagious energy to our facility and our team.

"In our short time together, it was evident Khyree was going to develop into a tremendous professional football player," O'Connell said. "But what was more impressive was his desire to become the best person he could be for his family and those around him.

"I am at a loss for words. My heart goes out to Khyree's family, friends, teammates and coaches."

Long path to Vikings

The 6-foot-4 Jackson's competitive desire fueled a circuitous route through the football mud that is junior college. He attended multiple schools, including East Mississippi Community College, known from Netflix's "Last Chance U."

His internal fire also led to hurt and disappointment when he lost his starting job at Alabama. Jackson was benched after one start in 2022. But he felt he had earned a chance to redeem himself after a bad game. Admittedly, his effort faded. He was suspended by Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban for the last four games. No reason was given publicly.

"A lot of things is just about being mature," Jackson told the Star Tribune in May. "Making sure I'm where I need to be at all times, just being reliable and dependable. I feel like that was some of the biggest things I needed to tighten up coming from Alabama.

"I think if I would've had that mentality a little earlier in my career," he added. "I probably would've been in this position a lot earlier."

Jackson's college path took him to junior colleges in Arizona, Kansas and Mississippi, a two-year stop at Alabama and finally a breakout 2023 season at Oregon. The fifth-oldest rookie out of 257 selected in this year's NFL draft, he was named first-team All-Pac-12 while defending against top quarterback prospects in USC's Caleb Williams and Washington's Michael Penix Jr.

He jawed at opponents the entire way — part of Jackson's brash on-field persona.

"One of the things that makes him great to me is he knows, or I should say he believes, he's better than sometimes he is," former Oregon cornerbacks coach Demetrice Martin said recently. "But that's what makes him go, and I love it."

Growth spurt

Jackson, the son of Raymond and Ebbony Jackson, grew up in Maryland's Prince George's County outside of Washington, D.C. He transferred to Wise High School, a football powerhouse, as a sophom*ore.

He stood 5-foot-6 as a freshman but grew into a 6-3 receiver as a senior, catching 39 passes for 612 yards and 12 touchdowns for a team that went 14-0 and won a state title.

But Division I college teams couldn't sign him: He had been ruled academically ineligible. Although his SAT score met the D-I threshold, his father said, his grades did not.

Jackson declined offers from D-II schools, believing that junior college was the best springboard to a Power Five conference and eventually the NFL.

"He didn't focus on a backup plan," his mother said recently. "He probably never questioned at all whether it would happen."

His first stop didn't last long. He left Arizona Western, a junior college in Yuma, Ariz., before playing his first game. Jackson returned to Maryland, where lived at home for nearly two years, working part-time jobs at Six Flags, Chipotle and Harris Teeter. After six months behind the deli counter, he earned employee of the month.

"It came with a plaque, but I don't have it," Jackson said. "I didn't even tell my mom I won it until maybe a month after. I didn't want to work there forever. It was one of those things where I knew it was cool that I got it, but I had things in the back of my mind."

Switching positions

After emailing junior college coaches to ask about opportunities, Jackson landed at Fort Scott Community College in Kansas. There, he asked coach Kale Pick to switch from receiver to cornerback.

"Told him I wanted to play corner," Jackson said. "I just kind of let him know ... I have to produce to get out of here. Our QB situation is not the best, I feel at corner at least I can kind of control my own destiny at least."

Jackson intercepted three passes in eight games, ascending as the nation's top junior college recruit at cornerback. He enrolled at East Mississippi Community College, but the school opted out of the season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scouts still watched his film and practices. He got 33 Division I offers, including from perennial power Alabama.

Under Saban, Jackson said he learned about tough practices. He trained and ate as well as ever. He eventually made his first start in Alabama's national title loss to Georgia at the end of the 2021 season.

By the following year, Jackson was in a competition with fellow future NFL corners Kool-Aid McKinstry and Terrion Arnold. And by the second week of the season, he had won the starting job against Texas. However, although the Tide narrowly beat the Longhorns, the Texas quarterbacks threw for 292 yards. Jackson was benched.

"I had kind of shot myself in the foot by not making the most of my opportunity," he said.

Jackson wanted to play, so he transferred. Options were limited because his mother insisted he go somewhere where all his credits transferred. Oregon became an easy choice as Jackson got to know the coaching staff, and the roster needed a starter.

He was an immediate difference maker in a pass-heavy conference. He had 10 deflections, three interceptions and a blocked field goal in 12 games.

Vikings evaluators liked his game skills, but they wanted to get to know Jackson as a person. The team scheduled three meetings with Jackson this spring: at the Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala.; the NFL combine in Indianapolis; and a private visit at TCO Performance Center in Eagan. Jackson left the Senior Bowl telling family he liked Vikings defensive backs coach Daronte Jones, who attended a Maryland high school 10 miles away from Jackson's Wise.

Jackson said he also liked how when he met with Adofo-Mensah, he wasn't asked routine questions about his past; the answers already were in a file lying on the desk. Adofo-Mensah told him he'd leave the file closed to instead "see how you are" as a person.

Jackson didn't hold back. He told Vikings evaluators he'd come "at a discount" because of his journey.

"I watched a lot of the names that got called before me recently in this draft," Jackson said. "If you just watch the last season, maybe it shouldn't have went like that. … It really don't bother me much, because I know I'm going to get the final laugh at the end when we make some plays and win the Super Bowl."

Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson killed in car accident at 24 (1)

Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson killed in car accident at 24 (2)

Doug Benc

Khyree Jackson went from one college to another before making himself into an NFL prospect at Oregon last season.

Vikings rookie cornerback Khyree Jackson killed in car accident at 24 (2024)

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