Rabalais: For Janzen Jackson, football dreams turn into an L.A. nightmare

They found Frank Herrera’s body lying beneath a blanket in the back seat of his car parked along a gritty south Los Angeles street. The murder weapon, an electrical cord from a lamp, was still wrapped around his neck.

Police figured the body had been there at least three days before it was reportedly found by Herrera’s girlfriend.

Her son, Janzen Jackson, has been and could be in jail a lot longer than that.

Herrera was found Sept. 14. Two days later, Jackson was arrested for that murder. He’s still there, in an L.A. prison facility called the “Twin Towers” that sounds like it could have been a scene in the movie “Escape from L.A.”

But this is no movie. This is life and death. The death of a man who loved to sing and laugh and install post-market speakers in cars, according to a friend who posted a message on a Los Angeles Times blog. The life of a superb football talent squandered.

This is in no way to assume Jackson’s guilt. He entered a plea of “not guilty” in a May hearing but is still being held on $1 million bond.

But clearly something led him onto a troubled path where his freedom now hangs in the balance.

Jackson was a star at Barbe High School in Lake Charles, ranked by Rivals as the No. 2 cornerback in the country and No. 2 prospect in Louisiana. In 2009, he was committed to play for LSU but at the last moment switched to Tennessee.

He started nine games for the Volunteers in 2009 despite a notorious incident in which he and two teammates were arrested on suspicion of attempted robbery. The charges were eventually dropped, and Jackson started all 13 of Tennessee’s games in 2010, earning All-Southeastern Conference honors.

But by 2011, Jackson had worn out his welcome with then-Tennessee coach Derek Dooley. Despite Jackson’s talent, Dooley dismissed him from the team.

Jackson gravitated back to Lake Charles. He was welcomed onto the team at McNeese State, where his father, Lance Guidry, is the defensive coordinator. Back in the late 1990s, the program made news for giving troubled running back Cecil Collins a spot after he was booted from the team at LSU for multiple transgressions. Collins didn’t last long at McNeese and eventually wound up in prison after playing briefly for the Miami Dolphins, only recently getting out.

Jackson spent four months as a free agent with the New York Giants in 2012 but didn’t stick. He played five games for the CFL’s Toronto Argonauts in 2013 before being dismissed for what the team reportedly referred to as “football reasons.”

In what may be the final turn of Jackson’s long and winding road, he then went to California, reportedly living with a great-uncle and his mother.

According to the Los Angeles Register, Tesra Jackson testified at an April hearing that her son began talking to himself and acting strangely, prompting her to request he be evaluated by Los Angeles County mental health workers.

On Sept. 11, a surveillance camera in Jackson and Herrera’s apartment building reportedly showed a man leaving an elevator dragging a large bundle. Janzen Jackson told police it was part of a workout routine. Apparently they were unconvinced, given his relationship to Herrera through his mother.

The haunting question is could someone — a coach, a family member, a friend — have seen something in Jackson that could have altered a downward spiral that has him ticking away the days in an L.A. jail cell? Did his talent allow him to skate through a system that uses young men and leaves some of them with few tools to deal with life off the field?

There are two things we know.

Frank Herrera is dead. And in a meaningful sense, Janzen Jackson’s life may have ended before it even really began.

No matter how Jackson’s case eventually turns out, there’s plenty of tragedy to go around.

Follow Scott Rabalais on Twitter: @RabalaisAdv.