For its ninth season, the HBO series Hard Knocks is following the Atlanta Falcons through training camp in preparation for the 2014 season.
Episode one was centered around not only the established Atlanta starters like Steven Jackson, but it also closely covered the journey of the team’s new rookies as they have their first true taste of life in the NFL.
But before the cameras were in Flowery Branch, Georgia for the start of camp, they followed SJ39 to his art show in Los Angeles, where Terrell Ownes and former St. Louis Rams teammate Chris Long were among the many in attendance.
“I wrote a poem when I was 10 years old saying that ‘I’m an NFL running back,'” Steven said at the show. “I never thought in a million years, going into my 11th season, that I’d be standing here, introducing myself to the world as an artist.”
So happy #HardKnocks & football are back in my life. Already obsessed w/ @sj39 & Donte Rumph. Congrats on another great one, @kenrodgersNFL
— Rebecca Feferman (@RebFef) August 6, 2014
Steven Jackson is the best. I want some of his art!
— Jeremy Getz (@JeremyGetz) August 6, 2014
Upon his arrival at camp, S-Jax moved into his training camp apartment to find that someone else — later revealed to quarterback Matt Ryan during the episode’s end credits — had already put their stuff in his room, and had to be evicted by No. 39.
Finally on the field, the action was fierce from the first set of drills. Several scuffles broke out, particularly with the big men in the trenches, and often between rookies and veterans. The coaches preached toughness throughout the practices, something the squad failed to show during a disappointing 2013 season.
For Steven, the theme among the running backs was not only toughness, but also unity. He took the time during practice to bring together the RB corps and preach about unity, confidence and the harsh realities of camp.
“At the end of the day, when you go between the lines, your God-given ability will take over,” Steven told his fellow running backs. “All I do is encourage you to be confident in yourself, motivate one another, push and try to be better. Competition is going to bring the best out of everybody.”
He continued, noting that just because the members of the running back room are competing against each other for spots as football players does not mean they can not stand together and support one another as men.
“At the end of the day, only so many men are going to make this team, but we can still be brothers. We can still reach out to each other and up lift each other. That’s really what life is about. Regardless of what your paycheck reflects, you still have feelings and emotions and everybody wants you to know that you’re cared about amongst your brotherhood and not just about what you can do for a coach or an organization.”
The speech from SJ39 to his running back brethren was one of the highlights of episode one, according to many following allong on Twitter:
GREAT speech by a TRUE leader on Hard Knocks. @sj39 SJAX! On #HardKnocks. @NFLFilms
— More Media LLC (@MoreMediaHits) August 6, 2014
Steven Jackson’s leadership is really something else. Not many guys would mentor these young RBs like that.
— Jeanna (@jeannathomas) August 6, 2014
Steven Jackson showing his quality leadership.
— Matt Chernoff (@RealMattlanta) August 6, 2014
Nice job, @sj39.
— Peter King (@SI_PeterKing) August 6, 2014
Best part of Hard Knocks was watching @sj39 address the running backs #leadership
— Brian Cohen (@brcohen) August 6, 2014
Unfortunately, SJ’s camp took a downturn in week one, when he tweaked his left hamstring. The injury kept No. 39 sidelined, but he used the time to continue to mentor the Falcons’ young runners—particularly fourth-round draft pick Devonta Freeman.
During the team’s Friday Night Lights scrimmage at a local high school, SJ39 shared some more wisdom with the youngster out of Florida State. He relayed a story about his first NFL carry—a fumble—and how that set him up to run worry-free for the rest of his career.
SJax also reported that he is feeling better every day and believes he’ll be back on the field soon.
Feeling better every day. Looking forward to getting back on the field with my @Atlanta_Falcons teammates sometime soon…!
— Steven Jackson (@sj39) August 5, 2014
Episode one will re-air Wednesday night on HBO at 6:15 and 11 p.m. ET and can also be seen on HBO GO. New episodes air every Tuesday night at 10 p.m. ET.