JACKSON — Mississippi State left guard Gabe Jackson made history Tuesday night when he was named the winner of the Conerly Trophy.
The 6-foot-4, 340-pound Jackson beat out a field of five finalists, including Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, during the ceremony at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. He is the first offensive lineman to earn the honor in its 18-year history.
The other finalists were Alcorn State’s Arnold Walker, Jackson State’s Clayton Moore, and Millsaps’ Mike Barthelemy.
Plenty of talented offensive linemen have come through Mississippi in the past two decades, including first-round NFL draft picks Michael Oher and Derek Sherrod, but Jackson is the first to take home the Conerly.
Last week, Jackson was named the Kent Hull Trophy recipient, which is given to the state’s top offensive lineman. Jackson is a three-time 2013 SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week. He is the first league lineman to receive three or more selections in the same year since former Bulldog Derek Sherrod in 2010.
“There is no one more deserving than Gabe,” MSU coach Dan Mullen said. “His work ethic, attention to detail have gotten him to where he is today. As a coach, you couldn’t ask for a better leader. He’s done everything we have asked of him since he’s been here.”
Jackson has been the anchor of the offensive line that is helping produce one of the most prolific offensive campaigns in program history. MSU is averaging 426.2 yards a game, on pace to break the single-season record of 422 yards per game, set in 1982. The Bulldogs’ 5,114 total yards are good for second on the program’s single-season chart behind the 2010 squad’s 5,217 yards.
“He has worked relentlessly to become a great player. There is no doubt he is one of the best offensive linemen in the country,” MSU offensive line coach John Hevesy said. “As a coach, he is everything you look for in a complete player. He will be fun to watch on Sundays.”
Jackson has paved the way for 26 rushing touchdowns this season, tied for the fifth most in a year in program history. Through the air, his pocket protection has provided time for Mississippi State to average 240.3 aerial yards a game, on pace to break the single-season record of 239.7 passing yards per game set in 1978.
Jackson admitted winning was hard to believe, especially considering offensive linemen are often among the most anonymous players on the field.
“It probably will (sink in) later on tonight, but I’m still enjoying the moment right now,” he said.
Jackson is the first MSU player to win since linebacker Chris White and running back Anthony Dixon were honored in 2009 and 2010.
“(Jackson) was in our first recruiting class,” Mullen said. “That was a real special group to me. I showed up and they believed. They bought in and now they’ve had a lot of success — four straight bowls. It’s special.”
Jackson’s presence was never more obvious for MSU than in the final minutes of the Egg Bowl, which the Bulldogs won 17-10 in overtime. The Bulldogs scored the game-winning touchdown on Dak Prescott’s 4-yard run, and the path to the end zone was easy thanks to Jackson clearing the way.
“Dak said, ‘Give me the ball, I’m going to score,’ ” Mullen said. “So then it was pretty easy to figure out which way we were going to run.”
Against No. 1 Alabama, the Liberty native graded out at 86 percent with three knockdown blocks. A week earlier, at No. 11 Texas A&M, Jackson was graded at 89 percent with four knockdowns while helping MSU to 556 yards of total offense, the most during a Southeastern Conference game under Mullen.
Jackson’s closest competition for the Conerly was Wallace, who was trying to become the award’s first back-to-back winner. The junior quarterback has thrown for 3,090 yards, 17 touchdowns and nine interceptions this season, but he threw three interceptions and a lost fumble in overtime in the Egg Bowl.
Wallace said Jackson was deserving of the award and he had little doubt the Egg Bowl result was a big factor in the Conerly result.
“There’s no doubt about it,” Wallace said. “I had the worst game I probably played in my career and I think that’s what cost me. But it happens like that. We’ve just got to grow and be better.”
Special Reports also were included in this report.