With three springs under his belt and a full season as a reserve to his credit, Jesse Jackson is ready to take on a bigger role in the Bulldog offense. Jackson believes the time for him to make a move up the depth chart is now.
"As far as the physical part goes, I feel I am over that," Jackson explained. "It's more about the mental side of things now. It's about knowing why we're doing certain things. It's about learning why I am running a certain route or why this concept is effective against this particular coverage. It's the little things like that, that make you a better all around player."
Coach Billy Gonzales has done some mixing and matching with his personnel this year. With some talented newcomers coming in as X receivers, the veteran coach has some options, but those youngsters still have a lot to learn before they can be counted on in SEC action. Jackson provides Gonzales some flexibility this fall.
"I am playing outside and I could play the X or the Z," Jackson said. "They're both pretty much the same. You run a lot of the same routes. It's just different sides and different alignments."
Jackson was a highly sought after wide receiver out of Petal, Mississippi. The adjustment to the college game has taken some time. Through his two full years on campus in Starkville, Jackson has learned a few lessons that he can pass down to the next generation of Bulldog pass catchers.
"You have to become more detail oriented," Jackson said. "In high school, you're getting by on being physically gifted. In this league, everybody is talented and everybody has skill. You have to find the things that you can do to help your game and get up to speed on your routes.
"It's really challenging. When you first get here, you're mainly working on the physical aspect of things. The first year, you're working on getting tougher both physically and mentally.
When you get to this point, if you don't have the right mindset or you're not physically ready, then you're doomed from the start. This is the SEC, the best of the best. If you don't have that Dawg mentality, you're not going to make it."
While Jackson has seen just one year of varsity action, the talented wide out considers himself one of the experienced guys in Coach Billy Gonzales' room.
"I consider myself a veteran even though I haven't played much," Jackson said. "When I get in the game, I have to be sure that I have prepared myself. I have to have the mental aspect down. I have to know how to handle the fans and how to play against certain players. You have to deal with all of the hype and all of the things that go with it.'
Jackson was one of the stars of the spring practice sessions in 2015, but that did not translate to a big fall. Now with his feet wet from a season of college experience, Jackson is prepared to make some things happen when his number is called.
"There is no set depth chart right now," Jackson said. "I have to be ready. I could be starting one game and then coming in for somebody in the next. I have to be ready. With Coach G, there is no set rotation. It's about what he feels comfortable with and who he thinks can go make a play. Things change every week. You just have to prepare yourself to always be ready to play."
The Bulldogs have about three weeks of practice to go before they tee it off and kick off for real. Jackson believes the Bulldogs will be ready to go, but there is still some work to do before the season opener arrives.
"I think we need to work on bonding," Jackson said. "It's just about getting everybody on the same page and just building that trust with each other. If it's man to man coverage, you have to know you've got your guy. The quarterback may be looking left, but knowing all along that Donald (Gray) is going to beat his man and get open on the right. I just think once we clean up everything in the aspect, that we're going to be good to go."
Last season, quarterback Dak Prescott was the undisputed leader of the Mississippi State football team. This go around, the Bulldogs are still working through the leadership roles and figuring out who will carry the Maroon and White banner forward.
"It's more of a collective thing this year," Jackson said. "Last year, Dak would step in and take charge in practice. Now, it's more the leaders in each position group that are taking charge of all of that. If a guy has a bad day, it's the leader of his group that is picking him up and doing their best to lead. There is no one leader of the team this year. There are a lot of leaders."
South Alabama will visit Starkville Saturday September 3rd for the season opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 11 A.M. and tickets remain available.