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Arizona walk-on Johnny Jackson rockets to starting role at receiver

Johnny Jackson

Johnny Jackson runs after one of his nine second-quarter catches vs. Stanford. Photo by Cary Edmondson-US PRESSWIRE

You don’t want a team full of walk-ons, but Arizona Wildcats coach Rich Rodriguez says almost every team needs a few in key roles.

Add redshirt freshman receiver Johnny Jackson to UA’s list.

Jackson announced his presence with 10 catches for 75 yards against Stanford last Saturday before leaving late in the third quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Nine of his catches came in the second quarter.

“He’s earned what we consider a starting role,” Rodriguez said.

“He should have probably played more earlier. He had shown a burst and some things in practice. I finally said, ‘Listen, we’ve got to give him more opportunities.’ And he has made the most it.”

Jackson didn’t technically start because the UA began the game in a three-receiver formation, not four. But count him among the team’s top quartet, joining Dan Buckner and Terrence Miller on outside, and Austin Hill in the slot.

Jackson (5-10, 179) supplanted junior Richard Morrison, who has had trouble hanging on to the football this season. Jackson didn’t have that problem Saturday, despite taking some big hits over the middle.

Jackson is the third walk-on this season to be a major contributor for Arizona, joining sophomore safety Jared Tevis and redshirt freshman outside linebacker Sir Thomas Jackson.

“Johnny has been working hard in practice every day, so he got rewarded and he had a big game,” co-offensive coordinator Calvin Magee said. “Before he got hurt, he was on his way to a really big game.

“It is good to see a kid who works that hard see that he can play if he puts the work in. He’s been knocking on the door every day in practice. It was time to put him in, and he did a great job.”

Similar to the story of most walk-ons, Jackson’s lack of size was a contributing factor in being overlooked out of high school. Jackson, who walked-on last fall from St. Augustine High in San Diego, began to turn heads this spring under Rodriguez.

But that was just spring ball. There are always a few young, unheralded players who look great in spring before disappearing in the fall.

Not so with Jackson. He had eight catches through five games before the breakthrough at Stanford.

He didn’t practice Tuesday (and was therefore off limits to the media), but Rodriguez said Jackson should be fine for the next game — Oct. 20 vs. Washington.

“I can’t wait for him to get back out there,” said quarterback Matt Scott.

“He’s a great player. Even when it’s not the ideal situation, he’s still going to grab the ball and hold on to it and make a play. The greatest thing about him is he’s so little, but he plays like he’s bigger. I like him a lot.”

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