ARLINGTON -- In Arlington Lamar's 1998 high school game program, running back Fredrick Jackson listed pizza as his favorite food, rap as his favorite music, math as his favorite subject and the University of Texas as his favorite college. Jackson also predicted that in 10 years he would be "out of college and have a good job."
No one, not even him, predicted he'd be a starting NFL running back.
"Sometimes the one you don't think will make it is the one that makes it," former Lamar coach Eddy Peach said. "His character was just tremendous, so you knew he stood a chance to be successful at whatever he wanted to do. But he was always pretty small.
"He had ability but not what you'd consider great ability, compared to somebody like LaDainian Tomlinson. So, no, you wouldn't have thought Fred was going to be an NFL player."
Jackson, in his fourth season with the Buffalo Bills, returns to his hometown as the league's third-leading rusher with 803 yards. He is second in yards from scrimmage with 1,194.
Although this will be Jackson's first time playing in Cowboys Stadium, it will be familiar ground. He grew up in a rental house just off what now is Legends Way, in the parking lot of the $1.2 billion stadium.
"We were young kids out running around, playing football in the middle of the street," Jackson said. "It'll be good to go back and be doing that in the middle of a stadium now.
"... It's a completely different place than what I grew up in."
His parents, Latricia and Fred Jackson Sr., still live in the area, in the shadow of Cowboys Stadium. They will walk the 1.37 miles to the game Sunday, wearing their No. 22 Bills' jerseys, and they will sit in the stands with 75 to 100 family and friends, including Fred's twin brother, Patrick, and Fred's wife, Danielle.
The Jacksons attend a couple of Bills games a season but most Sundays can be found at Boomerjack's in Lincoln Square. The bar and grill reserves a table for Arlington's biggest Bills' fans.
"We've always been diehard Cowboys fans," Latricia, 52, said. "Now, it's kind of hard. Fredrick tells his friends, 'When we go to Dallas, my daddy will probably be trying to sneak in a Cowboy hat.' He'll be wanting to, but then he's like, 'No, I can't.' It's in the blood."
The twins got their athletic ability from both their parents. Fred Sr. played high school football for two seasons and later semi-pro ball. Latricia, who met her future husband at Arlington Sam Houston High School, was a track star. She had the talent to compete for an Olympic berth in track but got pregnant with the twins, whom she always has had a hard time telling apart.
"I'll call her and still be like, 'which one is this?'" said Patrick, who lives in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and works for the state's Department of Corrections.
"Fred used to have a chipped tooth, so some people could tell us apart because of that."
The boys learned to walk on a basketball court at a park near their home, which then was in Grand Prairie. They started playing football in the second grade, and their mother coached them in the Arlington Optimist Club.
But Fred was only 5-foot-8 and 150 pounds in high school. He began his senior season backing up Tommicus Walker and Justin Faust. Walker, the Arlington player of the year in '98, played at TCU and Nebraska. Faust, who blew out his knee during two-a-days and missed his senior season, played at Stanford.
"I knew I had to work, get bigger," said Jackson, who didn't start a game in high school. "I knew I would be a late bloomer. I just kept at it."
Jackson had no college offers until Wayne Phillips, whom Jackson calls "another father," drove the twins 900 miles to visit Coe College, an NCAA Division III school in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Phillips is in the school's Athletic Hall of Fame, having been a running back there in the 1950s and later the Kohawks head football and track coach.
Phillips had been the head football coach and athletic coordinator at Nichols Junior High in Arlington when the Jackson boys played there.
"I can't really say I ever thought either would play pro football, but I thought they would be able to play Division III if they grew," said Phillips, who is 77 and retired in Arlington. "And they got their growth spurt at Coe." It was Phillips' relationship with Marv Levy -- a star running back at Coe who later coached Phillips there as an assistant in 1953-55 -- that got Fred a chance in the NFL. Jackson played in an indoor league and then in NFL Europe before the Bills gave him a tryout and eventually a spot on the practice squad.
"I liked him right away," said Levy, the Bills general manager when they signed Jackson in 2006. "I thought, 'This guy has a future.' Would I have predicted he would have turned out like he has? That would have been a little bit of reach. But I'm not surprised he evolved into that direction."
Now, Jackson has found his way back home. He took a couple of detours on his way to returning a star.
"It took a while for me to get there, but I finally made it, and I'm getting the opportunity to make plays for my team and getting to be the starter and a full-time back," he said. "It's just a long road traveled. A lot of work had to be put in to get to where I am today. I wouldn't change that for anything. It's made me the athlete I am today."