(Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU Photo)
“I go out and try to make plays. I play to my strengths. Everyone out there has certain strengths, and the key to success is to focus on those strengths and improve on the weaknesses.”
Junior wide receiver McKay Jacobson, five-feet-11-inches, coming off a sophomore campaign in which he averaged 24.2 yards per catch, has many strengths on and off the football field he can rely on to be successful.
Attending high school at the well known Southlake Carroll High in Texas Jacobson felt the pressure of being a number one receiver on a nationally-ranked team. That experience, combined with support from his family and a two-year church mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, has prepared Jacobson for a successful 2010 season. Now, if he heeds his own advice and plays to his strengths and stays healthy, Jacobson could become another great Cougar from the state of Texas.
FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS
“I started playing tackle football as early as possible,” Jacobson said. “In Southlake we could not start until we turn eight so I played a lot of sports before football, but always wanted to play. I grew up watching it on TV and just could not get enough of it.”
As any high school football fan knows, Texas football is a big deal. In 1988 Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist H.G. Bissinger spent a season with the Permian Panthers, a high school team from football-obsessed Odessa, Texas. Bissinger, in summary, described in detail a town that wholly relied on a high school football team.
“Football is like religion in Texas, and that’s no exaggeration,” Jacobson said. “I never played high school football anywhere else, but I know in Texas we took it very seriously but still had a lot of fun.”
Bissinger’s best-selling book has since spawned a critically acclaimed television show that, while fiction, depicts the everyday lives of a Texas high school football coach, his family and his team. A major motion picture was also produced, dramatizing the original novel.
“Friday Night Lights is accurate in describing what high school football in Texas is really like,” Jacobson said. “I grew up in Southlake, and we only had one high school in town, so everyone was really into it. A lot of people did not know any football players, but knew someone involved in something at the game. We had a huge band, spirit crew, cheer squad and a few other things. It felt like the entire school was involved in every game.”
During his time at Southlake Carroll, Jacobson helped the team to a 63-1 record, with the lone loss coming in the State Championship game his sophomore season. In his four high school seasons Southlake sent 18 athletes to NCAA Division I schools. Chase Daniel, the former University of Missouri quarterback and Heisman finalist, threw to Jacobson his junior season and Greg McElroy, the current University of Alabama quarterback that helped lead his team to the 2010 National Championship, was Jacobson’s quarterback his senior season.
The stellar quarterback play, along with his own dedication to perfecting his craft, helped Jacobson lead the state of Texas in receiving his senior season and earn the 5A Texas Football Wide Receiver of the Year award.
“Every year we knew going in that we were expected to win, and we carried that mentality with us throughout the season,” Jacobson said. “We worked very hard, had a great coach and a great run. All the work we put in during the off season allowed us to have the confidence we did. I think that work ethic helped us win and helped me become the player I am today.”
FAMILY AND FOOTBALL
Football is more than a game. That phrase can be heard all around the NFL, NCAA and even in the high school ranks. It can bring people together; sometimes entire communities. Football can unite families and give them a common social interest they can share on a weekly basis during the fall.
“Everyone in my family was very supportive of one another,” Jacobson said. “They all came to my games, and I went to theirs. A couple of my sisters were cheerleaders at Southlake while I was in high school so my parents would come to the game to support all of us at once. I even have a sister, Janelle, on the BYU cheer squad now so my parents can still support two of us at BYU football games.”
The Jacobson family, due to their son’s success on the high school gridiron, also got to participate in a life-changing decision involving the sport. Jacobson, rated a top recruit by Rivals.com coming into his senior season, built on his sophomore and junior success with a 99-reception senior season. His success, along with the fact that his team was named “National Champions” twice during his four years in high school, impressed college coaches throughout the country.
Big 12 schools from across the Midwest, including such national powers as Texas and Oklahoma, made visits to Southlake to recruit Jacobson. Growing up in Texas, Jacobson had a sense of familiarity with the Big 12, especially the Texas schools. Brigham Young University, on the other hand, was a Mountain West Conference school sitting in the center of Utah, approximately 1,200 miles from his home in Southlake.
“Growing up I was always watching the Big 12, especially Texas,” Jacobson said. “I just did not know a whole lot about BYU when I was young or even in high school. I feel like if I had been closer to Utah I would have known more about the tradition here.”
It was not until his senior season that Jacobson began learning about BYU. Several members of his family had attended the university, so he had a general idea of BYU academics and athletics, but knew little about the football tradition. Prior to his senior season, Jacobson attended the Cougar football camp, toured the campus and learned more about the rich Cougar tradition, and made an informed decision.
“A lot of my decision had to do with my family,” Jacobson said. “Most of my family had come here (BYU). I really did not know much about football here until I came on my visit during camp. Once I discovered the true tradition of the BYU football program, I knew this would be a great place to play. But in the end, my decision came down to where I would want to go if I were not playing football, and BYU was definitely the answer.”
Jacobson arrived on the BYU campus for the 2006 football season and played right away. In a game against conference foe Wyoming, Jacobson returned a punt 77-yards for a touchdown, marking the first punt return touchdown in 113 games for the Cougars. Jacobson finished his first season with 28 receptions for 547 yards and three touchdowns. His numbers were very good for any receiver, but exceptional for a freshman. He was named the BYU Offensive Rookie of the Year.
Before he could contemplate his future development however, Jacobson had a life-changing decision to make, a decision made by thousands of LDS young men every year: would he go on a Mormon mission?
Despite coming off a stellar freshman campaign, the decision was an easy one for Jacobson.
“I always planned on it (going on a mission),” Jacobson said. “I was lucky enough growing up to have a family that taught me correct principles and brought the gospel into my life. Everything I did leading up to leaving on my mission was to prepare for it, including where I went to school and how I planned out my life.”
Like many LDS missionaries, Jacobson had an opportunity to serve in a foreign country for two years, relying on teachers and faith to learn a new language, culture and lifestyle. Jacobson served in Sapporo, Japan and learned a language, Japanese, widely considered to be among the worlds’ most difficult to comprehend.
“My mission definitely changed my mindset about life,” Jacobson said. “It is something you need to experience yourself to fully understand its impact. I left knowing that it was not for me, but was to teach the gospel and serve people in anyway I could. But when it comes down to it, I got so much out of it, it almost feels like it was specifically for me.”
Those two years in Japan changed Jacobson’s life, and not just in a religious sense. The constant study, work and teaching a mission requires transforms a missionary physically, mentally and spiritually.
“It (his mission) has really helped me keep everything in my life in balance,” Jacobson said. “It helps me remember everyday to keep a good mindset and not fall too much into the world. It really helped me learn how to work that much harder in every aspect of my life, and to be the best I can everyday.”
A NEED FOR SPEED
Speed has rarely been the main component of a BYU football team. Typical Cougar wide outs have found success with above average hands, route-running skills, and the ability to find holes in the defense. Jacobson, a track star in Texas in high school (see side bar on p. 5), is a deep threat that can be successful in the underneath passing game as well.
Jacobson tried to make his speed apparent when he first arrived on the BYU campus, but never got the opportunity. In high school, Jacobson wore the number six, and wanted to keep that continuity through college. When it came to equipment checkout, however, Jacobson realized another Cougar, star running back Curtis Brown, already had claimed his number.
“I was six in high school, and then showed up here and realized Curtis Brown had already taken it,” Jacobson said. “So I came up with an idea I thought he would go for. I offered to race him for the number. We would have run somewhere between a 40 and a 60 yard dash, and I was completely serious. Unfortunately, I think he thought I was kidding.
“He (Brown) was a great player,” Jacobson said. “But if we would have raced that day, and it was at least 40 yards, I have confidence I would have won. The shorter the race the closer it would have been, but I guess we will never know.”
2010 AND BEYOND
In 2009, his first season back from his Japanese mission, Jacobson started off the season fast. He caught the game-winning touchdown in the season opening upset of No. 3 Oklahoma in Texas Stadium and followed that with a 79-yard performance in a 54-3 victory at Tulane.
His top performance last season came in the following game, a 28-54 loss to Florida State, when he tallied 111 receiving yards. He started the following game against Colorado State, but then went down with a hamstring injury and was never the same the rest of the year.
“I have done a whole lot to stay healthy this season, and it really is my main priority,” Jacobson said. “I think a lot of little things make the biggest difference, like extra dynamic stretches and remaining really flexible. Coach (Jay) Omer, our strength coach, has made a big difference for our entire team, and has really prepared us well.”
Staying healthy is a key for Jacobson not only this season, but for his football future as well. As a top Rivals.com recruit in the class of 2006, he was ranked as one of the best receivers in his class. Several of his fellow receiver recruits have already achieved the dream of the NFL, a dream not out of Jacobson’s reach. A total of five wide receivers from that 2006 class have been first round NFL draft picks, including Percy Harvin, Demaryious Thomas, Kenny Britt, Hakeem Nicks and Jeremy Maclin.
While Jacobson may not compare to those receivers physically, he does compare favorably with BYU-alum Austin Collie, a 2009 fourth-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts. Collie, like Jacobson, was a high school star and a Rivals.com recruit that signed on to play with BYU, had a stellar freshman season, left for a mission, then returned to finish his career. Collie had a productive NFL rookie season, giving a good name to BYU wide receivers and giving future NFL scouts someone to compare with Jacobson, when and if that time comes.
“I really want to play as long as I can, and we will just have to see where I end up,” Jacobson said. “Specifically for me, I just focus on staying healthy and having a good game, every game. As long as I get on the same page as the quarterbacks and the coaches continue to get the ball in their playmakers hands, I think we can have a great year.
“I think we have as much talent as we have ever had,” Jacobson said. “As long as we all continue to do the little things, every game of the year, we will all improve and improve our team as a whole. Winning as a team is always the most important thing, regardless of individual performance. Every season we go out and want to win a conference championship and do what we can control. Every game I go in knowing what I can control and do everything I can to help the team win.”
Football vs. Track Speed
Football and track do not have a lot in common. One, track is primarily an individual sport while the other, football, is an obvious team sport. In a college track season, one poor performance at a regular season meet doesn’t affect postseason opportunities. In college football, one poor performance during a regular season game can mean the difference between a National Championship and the Gator Bowl.
However, there is one primary aspect that each sport shares: speed. In each of the past two seasons, the top two teams at the NCAA Track and Field Outdoor Championships had a sprinter score points in both the 100-meters and 200-meters. Florida and Alabama, the past two football National Champions, have been loaded with speedy position players.
McKay Jacobson knows the importance of speed on the track, and how it can translate to the football field. A regional-qualifier as a sophomore in high school, Jacobson has career bests of 10.60 in the 100-meter dash and 21.56 in the 200-meter dash, both times that would have been atop the BYU men’s track and field team during the 2010 season.
“I really got into track in high school to improve my speed on the football field, and it helped me out during the off season,” Jacobson said.
So how fast could a group the four fastest Cougar football players run the 4x100-meter relay? Jacobson stopped short of naming the three teammates he would prefer to join him on the track.
“We have a lost of fast guys this season, and some of the new freshman are looking really fast,” he said. “Its one of those things I could determine better near the end of the season. I know we would need a lot of coaching for hand offs and take offs, but I think if we had an off season to prepare we could do really well.”
Based on 40-yard dash times provided by Scout.com, as well as some high school track times from milesplit.us, the most likely three Cougars to join Jacobson in the relay would be freshman running back Drew Phillips, senior defensive back Brian Logan and senior wide receiver Spencer Hafoka.
Phillips would join Jacobson as the lone high school track star of the bunch after winning the Alabama high school state championship in the 400-meter dash in 47.99 seconds. Phillips also has a listed 40-yard time of 4.39 seconds, besting that of Logan (4.40), Hafoka (4.40) and Jacobson (4.47).
There is no doubting the football speed of these four athletes, but how their speed would translate to the track is another story.
Patrick Shane, the BYU women’s head cross country and track and field coach, has over 30 years of experience coaching athletes on track. He knows the difference between speed on the track and the football field.
“The big difference is that, on a football team, speed and quickness are based mostly in the first three to 10 steps,” Shane said. “Football is explosive, quick speed for the most part. On the track, the shortest event we do is 10 seconds, which is still longer than most football plays. The ability to maintain speed and transition from explosion to top flight speed is much more important on the track than the football field.”
Jacobson will not be stepping onto the track anytime soon, but still maintains a sprinters mindset. As he continues his junior season on the football field, Jacobson will use the speed he developed on the track to beat defensive backs off the line on every play, similar to how he beat opposing sprinters out of the blocks in every meet.