Of the 17 seniors playing their final game for Colorado State against New Mexico on Friday, only a handful had the impact that linebacker Dequan Jackson is having.
Jackson is a graduate student and Friday’s game will mark the end of his fifth year of eligibility.
A member of the CSU program since his freshman year in 2018 and a starter since his sophomore year, Jackson made a strong impression on head coach Jay Norvell, who only got to coach the standout for a year.
“Dequan is an excellent student,” said Norvell. “He’s a guy who really took advantage of his education. And he also used his football to play here with the CSU. He tried very hard to be a good example for the younger players. The guy has really been a role model in tough times and he’s committed to this university and he’s committed to this program.”
As a freshman at Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Fla., Jackson appeared in 10 games and registered 11 tackles. He only scratched the surface of what he was capable of.
In his sophomore year, he played in all 12 CSU games and started 11 of them. He had 87 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. He established himself as a leader in defense.
COVID hit his junior season and he played and started in four games of the shortened season. He had 40 tackles and was team captain for the first time.
He started every game of his senior season with a total of 84 tackles, 8.5 tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks.
After his junior season he was named to the All-Mountain West second team and after his senior year he was named All-Mountain West Honorable Mention.
So far this season Jackson has 89 tackles and 5.5 tackles for loss along with two forced fumbles.
Though he’s captained for three seasons, Jackson has assumed a larger leadership role in this year’s team – one that has included both a new coach and a significant number of players who left the team during the season.
“It was an honor, man,” Jackson said. “Often it’s the players on the team who get to vote, especially when a new staff comes in. I think the staff approved of it anyway, but it was an honor to lead these guys and see me for the impact and for taking on every challenge we had and being an example for guys how to deal with it and how to deal with adversity.
“I hope the boys have learned from me over the years. Maybe when I get out of here, I’ll inspire some other guys to step up and be a leader.”
As one of the longest-serving Rams, Jackson has endured his share of change and adversity. He played under three coaches – Mike Bobo for two years, Steve Addazio for two years and now Norvell for his last.
Between his senior season and this season, Norvell came on board and has really enjoyed getting to know the three-time captain at more than just a player-coach level and watching him take on a leadership role.
“I just think it’s great to get to know each other,” Norvell said. “We really spend a lot of time just talking about what’s important in leadership and all the qualities of great leaders and examples of great leadership. Dequan takes this really seriously and I just think it will serve him well for the rest of his life.”
Norvell hopes Jackson’s younger players have learned how to handle themselves in difficult situations.
Jackson stayed with the coaching change. When the players left the team early in the season, Jackson was determined to stay loyal and committed and play the rest of his senior year.
“I’ve dedicated myself to this program and the team and never really signed to a coach,” Jackson said. “I appreciate the coaches who hired me and recruited me. Every coaching staff has been great with me personally. It’s just one of those things where I look at the commitment I made to my brothers and the guys in that locker room, and I could probably see myself the same way.
“Every time that opportunity comes up, I look at the guys and I realize I want to be here. It wasn’t a really difficult decision to stay here.”
Exploring the Lobos
New Mexico is 2-9 on the season and 0-7 in Mountain West. The Lobos have lost eight straight games, most recently a 34-10 setback against San Diego State.
The Lobos are led offensively by quarterback Miles Kendrick, who has passed for 863 yards and three touchdowns. However, CJ Montes had his first starting quarterback last week, passing for 112 yards and having an interception.
Running back Nate Jones leads the ground attack with 534 yards and two touchdowns. Georgon Porter is the team’s leading receiver with 312 yards and two touchdowns.
“We might see some quarterbacks in this game, so we really need to be prepared for that,” Norvell said. “They’re kind of a spread option team where they’re trying to run their quarterbacks and get their athletes into space.”
Defensively, Cody Moon leads the team with 97 tackles. He also has 7.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. Reco Hannah leads the team in sacks of four. Ronald Wilson and AJ Haulcy each have two interceptions to lead the team.
“Their defense is very difficult, there’s a lot of blitzing, a lot of braking,” Norvell said. “We just have to really dial in where the people are and be able to block movement against these guys.”
The CSU leads the eternal series between the two teams with 43:25. The Rams have won their last 11 matches, including last year’s 36-7 win in Albuquerque.