Offense keys improvement at NHS

Published 12:00 am Saturday, December 31, 2005

NATCHEZ &8212; Put a face on the football program at Natchez High this past season.

He&8217;s 6-5, 215-pound DeKeedrian Jackson. Just his frame alone will have college coaches inquiring about him. He can jump, too, and caught quite a few passes that way late in the season no one matched up with a defensive back anywhere near his size.

But up until this past season &8212; and about halfway through it, to be completely honest &8212; Jackson was all potential and couldn&8217;t seem to get it together.

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Just like Natchez High in the last 10 years.

But as Jackson put together solid games down the stretch, so did the Bulldogs. The passing game was the engine that drove the train in the final four games and helped put them in position to make the playoffs in the final game of the season.

Jackson joins steady receiver Edward Johnson and quarterback Jason Bruce on the All-Metro first team.

&8220;Football is my first love &8212; it&8217;s my passion,&8221; Jackson said. &8220;We wanted to turn the program around. Everybody around here was dogging us. They said it would be the same as previous years. We put in a lot of weeks of hard work the whole summer. We did seven-on-seven every day and were going to the different camps and competing against the different teams.&8221;

They heard it all season, last season and perhaps coming up through high school. The Bulldogs had won just three games in four years by a combined four points, and it gave no reason to end the talk any time soon.

Yet when things started happenening late in the season and the Bulldogs put together their first winning streak in several years, some of that talk subsided.

Actually, the talk centered on what good things were happening with the Bulldogs. Much of it centered around Bruce, a speedy junior who blossomed into more of a true double-threat quarterback by season&8217;s end.

&8220;It was real good this year for me,&8221; said Bruce, who threw for 1,152 yards and 12 touchdowns while rushing for 686 and 13 scores. &8220;I learned from all my mistakes last year and all the things I needed to work on &8212; decision-making, whether to run the ball or throw it out of bounds.&8221;

It was Bruce and the passing game that kept things going down the stretch &8212; along with a much-improved defensive front on the other side of the ball. Bruce was a double threat, and the Bulldogs kept teams on their heels with a four-wide, no-huddle offense that also had the capability of gaining yards on the ground with backs Brandon Lewis and Latarus Frazier.

The passing game had Jackson, Johnson, 6-5 Calvin Hall, 6-4 DeShawn Griggs and either of the running backs as potential targets.

&8220;That was real big for us spreading the field and coming back with two running backs,&8221; Bruce said. &8220;That really kept the defense off balance. Everything we had been working on from the first day of practice in August, we did it in the Port Gibson game (in Week 1). That showed us what we could do if we executed all of our plays.&8221;

In the middle was Jackson, who showed signs of his ability that week and other earlier games.

But the senior sat out half of the Vicksburg game and didn&8217;t play at all against Brandon while battling discipline issues with the coaching staff.

After that, offensive coordinator Steve Davis noted, Jackson didn&8217;t drop a pass.

&8220;When he realized his talents, he was unstoppable,&8221; Davis said. &8220;He became our main guy down the stretch. He was the guy we were looking for to make plays for us. His first two years, he played mainly tight end. Putting him out in the open, he had to work on his game more. After that (Brandon) game, he came back and played the best game I had seen him play in two years. He caught everything.&8221;

Then there was Johnson, who was the steadiest of receivers with 42 catches for 481 yards and six touchdowns. He&8217;s not the fastest receiver in the world, but the junior had a knack for getting open, catching the ball and creating something with it.

&8220;We just worked hard all summer,&8221; said Johnson, who had four TD catches against Port Gibson. &8220;We did seven-on-seven, went to the Mississippi State camp and competed against good teams. We worked hard every day. Everybody kept coming together and working hard every day. We decided to come together as a team.&8221;

Johnson was the least surprise after the season he had last year. He was the one coaches may have worried the least about.

&8220;Edward runs the best routes and has the best hands on the team,&8221; Davis said. &8220;He&8217;ll catch about anything thrown his way. He&8217;s what we call the perfect possession receiver. He doesn&8217;t have blazing speed, but he will get open and get you the necessary yardage.&8221;