STILLWATER – Blake Jackson vowed to prove to Cowboys fans that he was better than a year ago, when he struggled to consistently catch the ball.
Saturday offered the first public stage.
And a good start.
Jackson grabbed – and that's the operative word, grabbed – five passes for 34 yards in Oklahoma State's spring game before an announced crowd of 15,000 at Boone Pickens Stadium.
And Jackson hopes all in attendance noticed.
“It's really a pleasure to be able to show the fans that I'm better than I was last year,” said the senior slot receiver, “and really come out here and show how hard I've been working. It's definitely a fun time for me, but the hard work won't stop.”
Jackson arrived a year ago as a coveted recruit, a junior college All-American tight end with impressive offensive numbers. Slid into the slot in OSU's spread offense, Jackson didn't have a bad debut with the Cowboys, totaling 30 receptions for 598 yards, which ranked third on the team.
Yet the drops seemed to overshadow the good that he did, for fans and for Jackson.
So he went to work, trying to improve his concentration as well as his hands, even doing daily work catching tennis balls.
A lot of tennis balls.
“I wouldn't even be able to count,” Jackson said. “But I can tell you it was my daily thing, like waking up in the morning. I definitely dedicated myself to becoming a better pass catcher.
“I think it was just building my mental toughness and telling myself I was ready. And obviously, repetition and persistence, coming up here and catching tennis balls on the off days and just making sure I was always catching something, just to build my confidence back up.”
He had help with his confidence, too.
“Blake has always had that ability to catch the ball, he just sometimes lets his mind run wild, lets the pressure of the crowd get to him,” said wideout Tracy Moore. “We had long talks about that. And he's gotten a lot better at it.”
Saturday, he caught passes in traffic. He held on while taking hits. He even made produced a highlight catch, latching onto one pass with one hand near the sideline.
“He's done really well for us this spring,” said inside receivers coach Jason Ray. “I think he's getting more comfortable, he's confident. You can tell that he's maturing and he's understanding the system.”
Jackson said he considered Saturday a big step forward.
“It really prepares me to get ready for this grind,” Jackson said. “And it shows me that this hard work is going to pay off. I'm just really excited to pay everybody back for the ups and downs I had last year.”