Jackson Bowing Out As History-Making Bulldog

It's not easy for an offensive lineman to make history. Just getting noticed is tough enough for grunt-and-shove guys. So achieving a true ‘first ever' and earning an armful of awards speaks to Gabe Jackson's impact. Now, if only he'd, you know, brag a bit on himself? "I can't do that! When we start doing that then you're fixing to mess up!"

Goodness knows, this big Dog doesn't want to mess-up the ending of his college career. Not when he and a handful of Mississippi State seniors are about to acquire a unique place in program history. Literally, unique; because they are and forevermore will be the first four-time bowling Bulldogs.

And from among this elite few Jackson still stands out. When he sets up at left guard at the 2013 Liberty Bowl, he will be the first Bulldog of any position to not only play in but to start in four bowl games. Why it must be quite satisfying for a senior and specifically an offensive lineman to rank as a one-and-only in all Mississippi State football history, right?

"I wouldn't say satisfy, just an honor to be able to do that and play under the great coaches and with the players around me."

Well said, and truly too. Yet the tightest of teams needs stars to succeed at this level of the sport, and Jackson has shone brighter than any Bulldog in 2013. So much so that despite playing the most statistically-obscure spot of all, the guard has been noticed. And recognized. Prior to the Battle for the Golden Egg, Jackson was handed the inaugural Kent Hull Blocking Trophy for best offensive lineman Mississippi.

Days after that dramatic victory, he represented squad and school as winner of the Conerly Trophy given to the best player in the state, period…and the first offensive lineman to take that trophy by the way. Did he strut just a bit on behalf of his under-honored position? "I thanked everybody for it," Jackson grinned.

He has a wider audience to thank, again, as today league media voted him first-team All-SEC for a second season. Jackson was second-team by SEC Coaches last year and ought to be promoted when the 2013 team is announced shortly. And he was a second-teamer back in 2011 as well. Even his former teammate Derek Sherrod, who Jackson lined-up alongside in 2010, did not make All-SEC for three years.

Which still can't bring a bit of brag from the Liberty (irony alert), Miss., native. Just a whole lot of appreciation for what other think of his contributions to a winning program.

"It's been great. I was happy for everything and still grateful. And I still want to get better, I've got room to improve."

Sigh, so much for getting a guard to boast. The fact is, as much as Jackson does admit enjoying the attention, he has already turned to business-at-hand. Firstly the fall final exams running through Thursday; then bowl camp which runs for eight days on campus, and resumes December 26 when Coach Dan Mullen assembles the club in Memphis.

For that matter Jackson hasn't taken much of a break since walking off Scott Field for the final time, and in company of the Golden Egg once again. Just about everyone else needed a little downtime after the dramatic ending, or endings that is, to this regular season. The 2013 team won bowl eligibility the hardest way, with overtime wins over Arkansas and Ole Miss, and it left all Bulldog Country exhausted. Enthused, but exhausted.

Except Jackson. "It was great, I love competition," he said. "Sometimes games shouldn't be taken to the wire like that! But when it does you have to respond to it, and my team did. And we responded well. The feeling after those kind of wins is the best feeling ever because you know you went through a battle and came out on top."

"We knew it was do-or-die and everybody was desperate to go to a bowl game. We had to win it and do whatever it took. The last two games were tough but the feeling afterwards was great, knowing you battled it out for extra minutes after regulation."

And yet his own celebrating lasted…not very long. "The main thing is making sure I stay in shape and in the weightroom, and working on my technique still. Because we've been out for a whole week and that hurts. I'm making sure I'm staying on top of plays and helping the young guys out that might have to play."

Right there is a key to why Jackson is not only a success in his own right, but a symbol for why Bulldog football is on a better track these days. Jackson is both getting himself back in game-tune for the final college action; he is helping hone his successors. Specifically for now Jamaal Clayborn, a true freshman thrust into action by opening-day injury to right guard Justin Malone. Jackson seems to have taken responsibility for developing this youngest guard in the gang.

"He's been taking coaching a lot better than when he first came in and listening, buying in on doing the right things and working on technique to get better," said Jackson, approvingly. "Me and Jamaal, we talk all the time, everybody calls him my little twin brother! But just to do the small things right and that will take you a long way in life."

Bulldog blocking came a very long way in just the past three months. Many sources, this one included, raised concerns going into the season about this unit and kept questioning during the campaign. Now only praise comes from these quarters after a November where the long-term plan came into focus. Despite injuries, after adapting to different quarterbacks and schemes, the offensive line literally stepped to the forefront when this season was in the balance. And they tipped things the right way.

And being an offensive lineman, Jackson holds no grudges with the critics. He's happy to teach us, too.

"I feel we came together more as an offensive line unit. And seeing the defense, how hard those guys were playing and making plays and getting off the field; we'd get on the field and really wouldn't make too much happen. So we knew it was on our back and we had to do better and improve the offense.

"From Coach (John) Hevesy switching guys out before the season start, and seeing how we blended together, rotating the ones and twos and mixing us all up; it helped us out a lot. Because we'd already played with each other in practice and all that. It prepared us for those situations in case they happened."

Two teammates in particular merit end-of-season respect to Jackson. The blossoming of left tackle Blaine Clausell makes quite a story in itself, and the transition came in the most unexpected setting; at South Carolina, when Clausell faced top draft prospect defensive end Jadeveon Clowney. Jackson recalls the lead-up to that match-up.

"Everybody was just raving about Clowney so he kind of took it personal and ever since then he's made sure he was on top of every single thing and working harder at practice. After that I gave him the nickname ‘Mr. Lock-It-Down'! Because after that he wasn't hardly getting beat by nobody."

A lower-key but maybe even more impressive story is right tackle Charles Siddoway. His play was quietly competent enough to observers, yet what they could not know was the senior probably should not have been on the field at all with a genuine back-disc situation. Playing with pain doesn't do justice, but nobody heard a discouraging word from Siddoway.

"Oh yeah, he stuck it out," Jackson said. "He's a pretty tough guy and fought through it and got a lot of treatment and therapy on it. And did what he had to do to survive the rest of the season." And as a result of his and other trenches-efforts, Mississippi State's entire team survived to play another game.

A bowl game, a record fourth-straight post-season appearance. Funny thing, though, these Bulldogs aren't settling for making program history. Enough veterans of last New Years Day defeat in Jacksonville are around that they aren't allowing anyone take another trip as routine.

Yes, Jackson said, "It's a great feeling. For one, to be go bowling again, and to be the fourth-straight one. And hopefully we get a win in this one and finish the season with a win." Which means more now to the senior than ever, since he's experienced a bowl defeat too. "Last year was a heartbreaking loss, we came out rough and couldn't recover from it.

"Just to end the season with a good taste in our mouth for the younger guys that are coming back next year, and start their consecutive wins will be a good thing."

There's that ‘next year' angle again, from a fellow who by then will be playing for pay. Jackson is projected as one of and perhaps the very top guard prospect in the 2014 draft, though so much comes down to what clubs like him best and need him most. Fans can recall that a year ago at this time Jackson was actually evaluating his potential to turn pro early. His decision to return came pretty quickly, and now…"I mean, I really didn't want to leave no way!" he admitted.

"I mean I love every second of being here you know and the guys we have are great guys and I'd rather be around that any day." Those days are coming to an end though, and there is only one fitting way to exit a field now.

Winning, satisfied, even a little…boastful? OK, maybe not the last one. But don't misunderstand how important it is to Jackson to win one more time with this team.

"It means everything. When I ran out on Davis Wade, I never expect to lose you know, against Ole Miss! But you had that question of ‘what if this is my last game here?' There was a lot of emotion involved and I'm grateful to have another game with my teammates."

And should Jackson & squad bow-out as winners? Yep, more history, as the first three-time bowl champions for Mississippi State. That page in the record book just keeps filling up.

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