MSU ‘legend’ Watts-Jackson wants more

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News
Jalen Watts-Jackson runs toward the end zone on the final play of the game against Michigan on Oct. 17 last season. It was a 38-yard return on a botched punt to give the Spartans a shocking 27-23 win.

East Lansing — Jalen Watts-Jackson insists he’s got no problem with people asking for autographs and wanting their picture taken with “The Legend.”

That’s the nickname he’s been given ever since his final-play touchdown last season that gave Michigan State a victory over Michigan. Of course, the play was just part of it. The fact Watts-Jackson broke his hip on the play and was carted off the field while pointing his index finger to the sky launched him into the legendary status.

But, quite frankly, the sophomore safety hopes he can become more than just the guy who won the Michigan game.

“People still stop me going around town,” Watts-Jackson said after practice on Monday. “I take pictures and sign random things. I signed a phone, like the person’s actual phone. So I’m still living through it every day. But I want to keep moving on and make more plays and make myself more known than just the Michigan play.”

Cracking the rotation at safety won’t be a simple task. Fifth-year senior Demetrious Cox and junior Montae Nicholson are entrenched as the starters while sophomores Khari Willis and Grayson Miller saw extensive action last season. Sophomore Matt Morrissey and redshirt freshman Kenney Lyke have also impressed.

But that hasn’t stopped Watts-Jackson from working. He was back to full-go in the spring and his teammates haven’t laid off him in preseason camp.

“Out on the field guys joke around and call me ‘Legend’ and stuff like that,” Watts-Jackson said. “But they know … I told everyone I’m good and people never took it easy on me in drills. I’m good. If I’m out here I’m ready to play. It comes back to reality pretty quickly.”

Watts-Jackson said he still remembers the play well, though he never saw the ball until it was soaring in the air toward him. He also remembers throwing the ball and hoping no one would pile on, but that didn’t happen.

He says he understands how hard it probably was for Michigan punter Blake O’Neill, but said if he had a chance to talk to him he’d say, “Thanks.”

“I can’t say I feel sorry for him and want my team to lose,” Watts-Jackson said, “but it was an unfortunate play in his hands and I hope he’s able to recover from it the way I was able to recover from it.”

The recovery for Watts-Jackson has ended and now he’s focused on just becoming a guy who helps his team win.

“It was a blessing,” Watts-Jackson said. “It was a great play so I’m not going to be sour about it just because I’m tired of hearing about it. Anybody that ever comes up to me, I’ll take pictures and still sign autographs.

“My task now is to come out and contribute to my team wherever I can.”

O-line continues shuffle

The offensive line continues to see players shuffle around to different positions. Fifth-year senior Kodi Kieler is likely the starting center but has also worked at both tackle spots, while sophomore David Beedle appears to have the left tackle spot locked down.

Junior Brian Allen is at left guard with fifth-year senior Benny McGowan playing both guard spots and center. Sixth-year senior Brandon Clemons at right guard. Senior Miguel Machado has the right tackle spot in hand as junior Dennis Finley struggles to return to form after last season’s broken leg.

“He needs to get back to that guy who was able to play for us and that’s on him,” offensive line coach Mark Staten said. “Until he gets where he needs to be he’s gonna be watching and cheering everybody on.”

Staten added that true freshman Thiyo Lukusa is likely going to play.

“Right now we’re playing Thiyo,” Staten said. “I can sit here and say that. … Whether he becomes that fourth tackle or remains that fifth tackle, that’s on him. But his development has been terrific.”

Davis still waiting

Michigan State coach Mark Dantonio said on Monday that the grades have been submitted for linebacker Ed Davis to the NCAA and now the Spartans are waiting for the process to run its course. Davis is hoping to be granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing all of last season with a knee injury.

“You’ve got to remember that Ed did not participate in spring drills,” Dantonio said. “So he’s gotta get comfortable with his knee again and acclimate himself back to football at this level. He really hasn’t played in a while.”