The name Jalen Watts-Jackson will forever be a household name among Spartans fans and as he prepares to move on from Michigan State, he sat down for an exclusive interview with Spartan Nation.
Watts-Jackson, who is responsible for one of the most memorable plays in Michigan State history, announced that he would be leaving the school and transferring to a new school before the start of the 2018 season.
But as he looks back on his time at Michigan State, Watts-Jackson said that it was a special one from the moment he officially became a Spartan.
“Being a Spartan has always been precious,” he said. “Coming out of high school, I feel like I made a great connection not only with Coach D but the people up here at Michigan State. I’ve always valued my relationship with being a Spartan and with the Spartan community.”
In 2015 Watts-Jackson cemented his status as a Michigan State legend when he returned a botched punt attempt for a touchdown as time expired out in Michigan State’s improbable 27-23 comeback win over Michigan.
Looking back on that moment, Watts-Jackson said what stood out most to him before the play began was the confidence that he saw in head coach Mark Dantonio and added that the confidence carried over to the players on the field during that play.
“As a group, the whole 11 that went out there, when coach D brought us in and told us we were going to go for it, this last time, it just showed us that no matter how much time was on the clock, he felt like we were still going for it,” he said. “So we were going for it even with a great effort by Matt and Grayson who botched the actual punt. I just felt like we had the same mindset that if he’s not giving up on it, then we’re not giving up on it.”
As the play was developing, Watts-Jackson admitted that his first thought wasn’t that he was going to score, but rather get his team into field goal position, but as he made his way downfield, knew he needed to score.
“Honestly, the first thing that went through my mind was ‘Alright, we’re about to kick this field goal and get out of here’,” he said. “So I looked up and I was almost in the middle of the field and there were like five or six seconds left, so I’m thinking ‘Now I’ve got to score’ and then I kind of just blacked out. It was all green in front of me, it was crazy.”
As a result of the play, Watts-Jackson suffered a dislocated and fractured left hip, an injury that was expected to keep him sidelined for at least a year, but was able to return to workouts by the spring of 2016.
Watts-Jackson credited the medical staffs at the University of Michigan and Michigan State for helping him return to action so quickly and added that he’s 100-percent healthy now.
“Since I recovered from my hip surgery, I feel like I haven’t had any problems with my hip,” he said. “I went to U-of-M hospital and their doctors took great care of me, even the people who weren’t Michigan State fans would come in and be like ‘I’m sorry it had to be my team, but we’re going to take care of you’. They told me it would be 11 or 12 months for me to be recovered and I was back for Spring ball, working out. Thanks to them, thanks to the staff we have at Michigan State, I was able to recover fast, I feel no pain and I’m good. I’m 100-percent.”
After a junior season where he appeared in six games, Watts-Jackson announced that he will transfer from Michigan State and while he hasn’t yet let it be known where he will be transferring to, he will announce where he will be transferring to at some point around mid-July.
While there are a handful of reasons why he is transferring, the 5-foot-11, 184 pound defensive back cited his love for the game of football and wanting to play more regularly along with his desire to one day play in the NFL as reasons why he is moving on from Michigan State.
“With football, it’s something you come and give four years or five years that people see you play college football, I’ve been doing this my whole life” he said. “So when people ask ‘Do you think you still want to go to the NFL?’ I feel like I wouldn’t be playing football if I didn’t because it’s a big life commitment to play football, a big life commitment.”
Even though his time as a Michigan State football player is now over, Watts-Jackson looks back at his time with the Spartans fondly and said that he grew as a player and as a person during his four years in East Lansing.
“Being a Spartan means growth,” he said. “I feel like I’ve come here and I’ve gotten to take – not just my game or my character or my personality – I just feel like I’ve grown as a person, as a man, as a teammate, as a student, even as a family member. Being at Michigan State has shown me I can love my family better because some people go through situations where they don’t have fthe amily to support them or they have tragedies where it is just them. Michigan State has just meant growth to me.”
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