Jackson's leadership, production key for WKU's offense

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Lucky Jackson is trending toward having a career year for Western Kentucky. His play on the field has been vital.

His leadership off of it has been immeasurable.

“I think the big thing with (Jackson) is he’s matured a lot. He’s being a leader,” WKU wide receivers coach Junior Adams said. “He’s coming in during the day and getting the gameplan ahead of time. He’ll come in there and sit in the staff meetings with us where we’re gameplanning. I’m really pleased on where he’s headed right now.

"In the spring you could see him starting to grow and mature and another year, a year older in the system and understanding what we’re trying to do and what we’re trying to accomplish and understand what our goals are, our mission is here. He’s talking our verbiage.”

Jackson is nearly half way to his 2017 receiving yards total just one quarter through the 2018 campaign. Coming off a career-high eight receptions and season-high 91 yards at Ball State, Jackson is now averaging 14.2 yards per reception in an offense that continues to morph into its identity.

That last factor has been the variable for Jackson's success or lack thereof.

Jackson came to Bowling Green in 2015 to play in Jeff Brohm’s high-scoring attack. He flourished in a backup role in that offense in 2016 and then struggled with his consistency last year in Mike Sanford’s new system.

The final eight games of Jackson’s 2017 year saw two 100-yard games – in the other six contests he caught two passes or less each time out.

“It takes a little bit when you’re coming from a completely different coaching staff just because the expectations are different, the standards are different, there’s a bunch of different lingos and a bunch of stuff just to get used to,” Jackson said. “It wasn’t hard but it was something that we had to go through and grow through.”

Now, one of the few remaining upperclassmen on the entire team and one of just four juniors at wideout, Jackson has elevated his game to prove himself reliable. His 284 yards and 20 receptions is eighth among Conference USA receivers and the Lafayette High graduate has caught at least four balls every game this year.

He’s on pace to flirt with his first 1,000-yard season as a Hilltopper.

“We were just talking a few minutes ago on the field and he’s talking about how when he gets on the grass it’s recess. He’s having fun out there,” Adams said. “He comes with instant energy. Lucky’s a joy to be around.”

The transition for Jackson began during the 2017 season, carried over into the winter and blossomed in the spring. After playing behind WKU receiving greats like Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris and Nacarius Fant, Jackson struggled to take that next step in ’17.

He had seven receptions for 135 yards Nov. 4 at Vanderbilt and five grabs for 109 yards against Middle Tennessee. The games in between and after? Three receptions for 36 yards.

“I know I had to step up (coming into 2018) since I’ve been here a few years and I kinda know the system better than a lot of these younger guys,” Jackson said about his changing role. “They gotta have that big brother, someone they can look up to like the older guys provided for me when I was that age.”

Western Kentucky has eight wide receivers on its roster listed as sophomores and freshman. Jackson said he stresses to that group the importance of getting to team meetings early, watching extra film during down time and on the right way to prepare for each week’s game.

Fellow junior receiver and friend Quin Jernighan has noticed how Jackson has taken that group and made it his own.

“He took that big brother role so he makes sure everybody is everywhere on time, just makes sure everybody does the right thing,” Jernighan said. “I see a lot of the young guys looking up to him just because of how he acts on the field, how he carries himself, how he stays late stretching – doing all the extra things.

“There’s sometimes where he’s not feeling the energy, he’ll just step up and say something like, ‘We need to get ready, we need to get going, get your heads in the game so we can come out with the win.’ ”

Jackson and the Hilltoppers (1-3) will host a Marshall team that has allowed an average of 367 yards passing to its two FBS opponents this year. That would seem to indicate they’ll be some space for Jackson to continue the solid start to his third active season on The Hill.

He’d probably also like to make amends for a game in which he went without a catch in last year’s 30-23 Marshall win in Huntington, W. Va.

“I can only do as much as my team can help me do,” Jackson said. “We got great quarterbacks. They try to get each and every one of us the ball. It’s only up from here.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop