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Jackson's highlight catch gives glimpse of potential for Missouri football team

Friday, November 13, 2009 | 12:01 a.m. CST
Missouri sophomore Jerrell Jackson pulls in a one-handed catch against Colorado linebacker Jeff Smart.

COLUMBIA — Each is just a moment. Some are beginnings, others are culminations, each a still reminder of the greatness of last season's class of stars.

Jeremy Maclin's first punt return touchdown against Illinois. Chase Coffman hurdling another defender. William Moore's end-zone interception against Kansas.

While current Missouri wide receiver Jerrell Jackson is just a sophomore, he might already have his moment, an unbelievable one-handed catch in Missouri's 36-17 victory over Colorado that landed him in a set of top plays on ESPN later that night, the type of play that made even a normally silent press row say "Wow."

But that moment is certainly a beginning rather than a culmination. Jackson doesn't belong on that list with the Maclins and the Moores. Not yet, anyway. Not with 28 career receptions. But ask his coach and teammates, and they will say that catch is a reminder. A snapshot, not of what was, but of what can be.

It starts with how far Jackson has come in only one season. As a freshman last season under Tigers wide receivers coach Andy Hill, Jackson's easy-going personality was evident.

"Coach Hill used to rip us up," Jackson said as he flashed a smile. "Freshmen. We were just freshmen, hanging out, joking around, not that serious."

It was during practices this spring that Jackson got his first glimpse at just how different this season would have to be.

With Maclin in the NFL and seniors Danario Alexander and Jared Perry out with injuries, Jackson and fellow sophomore Wes Kemp were left as the offense's two main receiving options.

"When I had a bad practice, it seemed like the offense had a bad practice," Jackson said. "That really made me buckle down, because I saw that everything revolved around the playmaker. It was a lot less jacking around, and us being in tune with trying to make plays for the team, just growing up."

As a freshman Jackson had the chance to learn from Maclin and Perry on a daily basis, and through Missouri's first seven games his improvement has been apparent.

"Jared Perry, my big brother, he told me the other day, 'Little bro, I'm watching you grow up with my own eyes,'" Jackson said.

Kemp said that along with Jackson's improvements as a route runner and receiver, he had also become an excellent blocker, which Kemp said is indicative of Jackson's improved work ethic.

"Comin' out of high school, I always played on the outside, so I just blocked little corners," Jackson said. "Comin' here, puttin me at the slot, I'm blockin' linebackers and safeties comin' down the whole time. It's just something I had to work on."

But while his efforts as a blocker can spring 80-yard touchdowns by Alexander, and often come with compliments from teammates and coaches, it took a 5-yard reception for Jackson to step out of the shadow associated with being a third or fourth receiver.

At the beginning of the second quarter, on first-and-10 from Missouri's own 17-yard line, Jackson lined up in the left slot before running a short route over the middle of the field, just a step in front of Colorado linebacker Jeff Smart. As Jackson noticed that the ball was under-thrown, he fully extended his right arm all the way behind Smart's helmet, gripping the nose of the ball with each fingertip before pulling it back into his body.

The catch was the biggest highlight in a half that included 33 Missouri points, and when Jackson returned to class on Monday, he was no longer the sophomore receiver with one career touchdown.

"I'm pretty sure when they see 29 they know it's me," Jackson said about his classmates. "But after that game, the next week it seemed like I talked the whole class period about how I made that catch."

When Jackson watched Maclin last season he always envisioned having that type of career, that type of image among a program and a college campus.

"It is a first step (towards that)," Jackson said. "And it was a really big step."

Both Jackson's quarterback and his head coach agree. That catch is simply the first of many.

"The plays he can make, and the plays he's going to make, are just tremendous," quarterback Blaine Gabbert said.

"He's got great potential to be a really, really, really good player in the Big 12," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "It's kind of funny because you talk to players like that. Some players have expectations that aren't even close to what they should be. And then there are some players that kind of sit back and their expectation level isn't that high."

Jackson said that he's met with Pinkel this season to discuss those expectations. Even though Alexander and Perry are around to fill the stat sheet, Pinkel has urged Jackson to  not wait to be a playmaker for the Missouri offense.

Asked whether that catch is the snapshot for him that players like Maclin and Coffman had in their careers, Jackson answers with something that would undoubtedly please his optimistic coach.

"That was an amazing catch, yeah, but I want to be described as that touchdown guy, or that guy they went to on third and long, or that guy they went to in crunch time," Jackson said. "I want that to be my moment."


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