FOOTBALL

Arizona football: Walk-on WR Jumpin' Johnny has quarterback, coach ravin'

2012-04-03T00:00:00Z 2014-10-10T11:23:20Z Arizona football: Walk-on WR Jumpin' Johnny has quarterback, coach ravin'Ryan Finley Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
April 03, 2012 12:00 am  • 

Maybe it's a sports thing, the apostrophe.

After all, if Louisiana Lafayette's Cajuns can be Ragin', and if UNLV's Rebels can be Runnin', then UA wide receiver Johnny Jackson is allowed to lay claim to another nickname.

"Jumpin' Johnny Jackson," quarterback Matt Scott said, a smile spreading across his face. "He's going to be a great player for us."

Jackson, a walk-on wide receiver, might be the Arizona Wildcats' most surprising story of spring. He caught three passes for 57 yards in Saturday's scrimmage on campus; in the UA's two public workouts, he has nine catches for 83 yards.

Coach Rich Rodriguez has been hesitant to praise any individual player this spring - "You guys know that's my M.O.," he said - but happily made an exception for Jackson.

"Johnny's a walk-on who works every day to prove himself and, so far, he has," Rodriguez said.

That's because Jackson:

• Has game. The days of unskilled, bad-body walk-ons - think the lead character in "Rudy" - have long passed. Jackson, like many of the UA's pay-to-play athletes, is athletic enough to contribute if called upon.

He rushed for 823 yards, racked up 560 receiving yards and scored 10 total touchdowns in his final two seasons at San Diego's St. Augustine High School. But his 5-foot-9-inch, 180-pound build scared off most suitors. It wasn't until one of Jackson's former high school coaches reached out to former UA assistant Jeff Hammerschmidt, the Wildcats' lead recruiter in San Diego, that he considered Arizona.

It didn't take long for Jackson to impress his new teammates.

"We were all like, 'Who is this kid?'" Scott said. "His cuts were fluid, he was catching the ball … (We thought) he was going to be a great addition to the team, for sure."

• Has stayed humble. Jackson spent about 20 minutes after Saturday's scrimmage catching extra passes. The way he saw it, there was no time to waste.

"I come out here every day with a chip on my shoulder," he said. "I feel like I have something to prove being a walk-on. Guys are out here pushing me, and trying to get better every day."

There's already plenty of competition at slot receiver, especially if reserve QB Richard Morrison moves back to the position this fall. But Jackson, 18, has the confidence, work ethic and adaptability to find a way on the field. He's already pegged as a special-teamer.

• Has caught the coach's eye. Spring statistics don't count for much, and are worth even less if the head coach is worried only about scholarship players.

Luckily for Jackson, Rodriguez has a soft spot for walk-ons: He paid his own way as a West Virginia freshman before earning a scholarship.

"Johnny's a smart, tough, competitive guy, and a guy that our coaches kind of had our eye on because the previous staff thought they really liked him as a walk-on," Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez is "real cool," Jackson said, in part because the coach understands the life of a walk-on. Jackson is a pre-business major at the UA; he's expected to keep his grades up while paying his own way to play football.

Rodriguez "knows the struggle, and I feel like he wants us to do good," Jackson said. "Last year, the coaches did look out for us - but I feel like the coaches put some of the walk-ons out in the back, sort of.

"These coaches are hyping us up. They want us to succeed. They look at us like we're scholarship players."

Spring Game

• April 14: Spring game at Kino Stadium, 1 p.m., open to the public

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Pac-12 South football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Arizona 7 2 0 0.778 10 3 0 0.769
USC 6 3 0 0.667 8 4 0 0.667
UCLA 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Arizona State 6 3 0 0.667 9 3 0 0.750
Utah 5 4 0 0.556 8 4 0 0.667
Colorado 0 9 0 0.000 2 10 0 0.167

Pac-12 North football standings

  Conference Overall
Team W L T PCT W L T PCT
Oregon 8 1 0 0.889 12 1 0 0.923
Stanford 5 4 0 0.556 7 5 0 0.583
Washington 4 5 0 0.444 8 5 0 0.615
Cal 3 6 0 0.333 5 7 0 0.417
Washington State 2 7 0 0.222 3 9 0 0.250
Oregon State 2 7 0 0.222 5 7 0 0.417
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