Jackson State football ‘at a great point’ heading into spring game

(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)
(AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)(Rogelio V. Solis | AP)
Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 5:53 PM CDT
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JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) - The Jackson State Football Blue and White Spring Game is just over a week away.

With just four practices of the spring camp left, JSU head coach T.C. Taylor and his backroom staff provided updates on the team and which Tigers to look out for ahead of the spring game.

Coach Taylor, offensive coordinator Maurice Harris, and defensive coordinator Jonathan Bradley have had a busy spring in their inaugural season in their respective positions.

An overhaul of talent was required due to the departure of Coach Prime and former players entering the transfer portal. The biggest topic this spring, however: Who will be the next starting quarterback?

Transfer quarterbacks Jason Brown, Zy McDonald, and Phillip Short have all competed for the wide-open, high-octane position battle, with no QB solidifying themselves as the out-in-out starter come the spring game and this fall.

“They’ve been doing well. Zy McDonald, Jason Brown, and Phillip Short have all been competing well,” Coach Taylor said. “We don’t know, right now, who will go out there with the first team, but they all will have the opportunity to get first team reps.”

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the tight ends are expected to be a huge contributing part of the offense under Coach Harris, who is known for utilizing the position and has developed NFL Draft picks Evan Engram and Dawson Knox during his tenure at Ole Miss.

After the first spring practice, WLBT asked Coach Harris about the position given the emergence of tight end D.J. Stevens last season. Harris provided an update on the performances of Stevens and tight end Jency Riley Jr. this spring.

“I think that when we say, ‘The tight end is going to be a huge part of [the offense],’ they really believe it now,” Coach Harris said. “They are going to be a huge part of what we do offensively. They give us a different dynamic... they see right now that they are going to be a vital part of what we do offensively. They’ve been buying into it.”

“The learning curve, I would say, so far, is acceptable for right now,” Coach Harris continued. “We still have to get better, because, next to the QB position, that’s the toughest position to learn.”

The other pass catchers, the wide receivers, is a different story.

Transfer Seven McGee, Rico Powers, and Trevonte Rucker have stood out this spring. However, Coach Taylor is looking for others to stand out to provide more depth at the position that has seen some losses to the transfer portal and graduation.

“The guys that we expected to make plays are making plays,” Coach Taylor said. “You see Rico Powers having a good spring. Seven McGee, Trevonte Rucker... that’s the one position I will have to say that I still got a few question marks about. There’s a load of talent, but I’m ready for the next three or four guys to step up. We can’t just count on those three dudes to tote the load week in and week out.”

On the defensive side of the football, it’s business as usual.

The FCS No. 1 defense in 2022 is once again set for an outstanding year anchored by returning starters Nyles Gaddy and Ke’Vric Wiggins, Jr.

With the departure of All-American linebacker and JSU’s leading tackler last season, Aubrey Miller, Jr., the linebacker position has been addressed with Louisiana Tech transfer Allen Walker and Jones Community College transfer Javarian Jenkins, who Coach Taylor and Coach Bradley gave high praise.

“Allen Walker has been phenomenal. Him and Javarian Jenkins have been doing a great job playing linebacker for us this spring,” Coach Taylor said. “They were some new additions that we were excited about getting. But to actually see them play football, it’s been a blessing.”

“Instincts. Being able to come downhill and stop the ball carrier from moving. When those two hit somebody, the ball carrier is normally going backwards,” Coach Bradley said. “[They’ve] been leading the defense and are being vocal, and are being able to get everybody on the same page. We put a lot on those guys, and they’ve been responding.”

Coach Taylor also mentioned a few names in the secondary that are showing out on the gridiron this spring.

“They’re playing solid football,” Coach Taylor said. “We have some really good, elite corners here. Jalin Hughes has been having a great spring. Wiggins has [as well], and the addition of Keydrain Calligan. He keeps flashing out there and had a big turnover yesterday. He’s just a hawk. We feel really good about the schemes and the things we’re going to ask them to do in the secondary.”

The Blue and White spring game is set for Saturday, April 15, at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. It is expected to start at 3 p.m.

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