John Niyo and Matt Charboneau take a look at the Spartans (4-4) and they preview the Michigan-Maryland game. The Detroit News
West Bloomfield coach Ron Bellamy knows all about wide receiver talent.
As a Michigan wideout under Lloyd Carr, Bellamy played alongside top-10 draft picks David Terrell and Braylon Edwards, then had a brief stop himself with the Miami Dolphins in 2004.
So when Bellamy saw his quarterback casually making one-handed catches before practice a few years back, the coach knew he had to find a way to get Trishton Jackson to catch some passes on Friday nights.
“As a coach, you’re like, ‘Do that again,’” Bellamy said. “He did it again and it was like, ‘He might be a receiver.’”
Now, Bellamy believes Jackson might be NFL-caliber.
After a two-year stint at Michigan State, Jackson is making a huge impact at Syracuse, and is among the statistical leaders in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“I’m not forcing anything, just kind of going out there and let the plays come to me. And when they come to me, making plays,” Jackson said by phone this week. “Being in places where my quarterback can see me and throw me the ball, make plays for our offense, for my teammates whatever they need, and being the best teammate I can be.”
It’s a mantra that landed Jackson at wide receiver in the first place.
After starting as a freshman quarterback at West Bloomfield in a 2-7 season, Jackson was injured as a sophomore and missed three games. After West Bloomfield ripped off a winning streak in his absence, Bellamy approached Jackson about moving to wide receiver to close the season, not wanting to disrupt the team’s momentum.
“I sat Trishton down, and he’s a team-first player, so he said, ‘Coach, if I got to move to receiver, that’s what I’ll do,’” Bellamy said. “He moved to wide receiver, and he had over 30 catches in three games.”
Bellamy sent the tape to some college coaches and Jackson was on the recruiting map, settling the next year on Mark Dantonio’s Spartans, joining Detroit King’s Donnie Corley, Cam Chambers and Justin Layne in a well-regarded wide receiver group.
Jackson had five catches for 89 yards and a touchdown as a freshman and finished his sophomore season with 12 catches for 143 yards. After starting the first four games of the season, Jackson had only three catches during the final eight games as freshman Cody White emerged on a crowded depth chart that already featured Felton Davis III and Darrell Stewart Jr.
In East Lansing, the overall production and opportunity never really emerged, though Jackson said close bonds with players such as Stewart and Layne, now a defensive back with the Pittsburgh Steelers, still remains.
Jackson moved on to Syracuse, where he is now one of five players from Michigan on the Orange roster, which includes West Bloomfield teammate Evan Foster, a senior defensive back.
Plus, coach Dino Babers has a reputation for turning out some of college football’s top wideouts as Amba Etta-Tawo, Steve Ishmael and Jamal Custis have flirted with or passed 1,000 yards over the past four seasons.
However, none of those guys have yet caught a pass in an NFL game, something Bellamy could see changing with Jackson, who has one more year of college eligibility remaining.
“The kid is talented. He has an NFL body, an NFL work ethic, an NFL athletic ability,” Bellamy said. “He’s in conference that’s going to allow him to showcase his talents, playing Clemson, Florida State, Miami, the Virginia Techs of the world. He just needs to come out every game and just be dominant.”
The leading receiver for Syracuse (3-5, 0-4) heading into Saturday’s home game against Boston College (4-4, 2-3), Jackson has 43 catches for 643 yards and six touchdowns — all top-five totals in the ACC.
His season includes three games of more than 100 yards receiving, including a 141-yard effort against Western Michigan, and a few highlight reel catches.
“Going forward, I just need to be more of a vocal leader in the offensive room and on the team as well,” Jackson said. “As far as playing, everything. I can name 10 things I need to get better at.
"I’m a dude who has to work out, work on my strengths and weaknesses. I think the most important thing right now is to be a leader for our football team and put ourselves in situations to win football games.”
Meanwhile, West Bloomfield (8-1) opens postseason play as the No. 4 team in the final Detroit News Super 20 rankings, hosting Canton (5-4) on Friday night.
Jackson said he’s proud to be part of the shift from those 2-7 days until now, when West Bloomfield has a legitimate shot for the school’s first state title and has players all over the college ranks, including Purdue, Wisconsin, Penn State, Michigan State, Missouri, Navy, Central Michigan, Kent State, Toledo, Bowling Green, Colgate and Indiana State, among others.
“Knowing where it is now, I’m glad to say that I kind of helped change the culture,” Jackson said. “The guys that are still there now, I look at those boys like my little brothers.”
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.