November 5, 2018 10:37:56 AM
STARKVILLE -- Jesse Jackson gave three years of his life to the Mississippi State football program in hopes that it would one day need him. That faith was rewarded last year -- even if in unfortunate circumstances -- when injuries threw the wide receiver position into chaos.
MSU needed a receiver to turn to and Jackson was exactly that, leading the team with 276 yards and catching multiple passes in nine of the last 10 games. Somehow in that stretch, he was missing a particular reward: a touchdown.
The senior from Petal finally got that reward Saturday, scoring his first touchdown as a Bulldog in No. 18 MSU's 45-3 win over Louisiana Tech (6-3). It was a memorable milestone in a season that is setting up to be much more of the same.
"Been dreaming about that moment for five years now," Jackson said.
A moment as rewarding as that touchdown was no guarantee. Jackson was the team's leading receiver, yes, but this was not the typical leading returner situation. There was the coaching change, serving as an equalizer for all, but he was also not sizing himself up against the same group he had the year before.
With the new coaching staff came new highly touted talent, namely junior college transfer Stephen Guidry and early-enrollee freshman Devonta "Whop" Jason, to make no mention of a healthy Keith Mixon and Malik Dear.
Through it all, Jackson emerged. Head coach Joe Moorhead considers Guidry, Jackson and Osirus Mitchell co-starters at their outside wide receiver positions with game-by-game factors determining the two that actually take the field first. For the first five games, it was Guidry and Mitchell; Jackson ended them with a grand total of two catches for 14 yards.
When the coaching staff felt inclined to give Jackson the start, once again, he rose to the occasion. He started by making an impact as a blocker before five catches over the last two games, taking his three catches against Louisiana Tech for 44 yards.
"It was only a matter of time before the ball's in my hand and I can show what I can do," Jackson said.
Jackson did not reinvent himself to reach this point. He knew the process was simple: practice performance ultimately determined game snaps, and as he performed better there he would get more opportunities on Saturdays. He said he feels like his snap count has gone up in recent weeks yet still feels like the three are treated as co-starters in practice.
Simply put, the same approach that made him MSU's leading receiver last year is the approach that made him a bigger factor in recent weeks. It's the same approach that has earned him the trust of his quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald.
"He's a guy that's been here with me since day one," he said. "He's works hard, he's a great leader. One-hundred percent trust that he's going to be in the spot he's supposed to be at and he's going to catch it if I put it where it needs to be."
That trust is almost certain to grow after the plays Jackson made for Fitzgerald Saturday.
Jackson crossed the field for his first catch and paid the price wide receivers usually pay for crossing the field -- a violent hit from a safety, but all it did was bounce Jackson back a few feet. He gathered himself and fought through a few more tackles, extending it to a 10-yard gain.
"I was ready for them to throw the ball my way again," Jackson said.
MSU obliged. Fitzgerald connected with Jackson on an outside comeback; Jackson turned and made his defender miss, dragging him for yards after the catch and a 24-yard gain.
Jackson said wide receivers coach Luke Getsy is big on yards after the catch, but he encourages players to get them however they are best suited to do so, tailoring things to their skillset. Jackson proved his is diverse.
"Once you get it, make the most of it," Jackson said.
Jackson's done just that for his three catches against Louisiana Tech and the later stages of his senior season.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson
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