Michigan State hero to join Air Force … just not for football


Michigan State defensive back (and future airman) Jalen Watts-Jackson runs towards the end zone after recovering a fumble on a punt in the closing seconds of the second half of a 2015 rivalry game at Michigan. (Carlos Osorio/AP)

The defensive back at the center of one of the most unexpected finishes in college football history reportedly will trade his final year of eligibility at Michigan State to don Air Force blue.

Jalen Watts-Jackson and the rest of the Spartans appeared doomed to defeat on Oct. 17, 2015, down 23-21 with 10 seconds to play at rival Michigan. Facing a fourth down, all the Wolverines had to do was fire off a long punt, maybe survive a desperation Hail Mary, and claim a rivalry victory.

And then:

Watts-Jackson’s game-winning fumble recovery and return kept the Spartans unbeaten and made him a campus legend, but it came with a cost: The redshirt freshman broke his hip on the play and missed the rest of the season.

Watts-Jackson played in just 15 games the next two seasons, recording three tackles. He reportedly considered a transfer that would’ve allowed him to play an additional season as a graduate student, but instead chose to join the Air Force.

“My dad was in the military, and he used to joke: ‘If you can’t figure out what to do in life, go to the military,’ ” Watts-Jackson told The Detroit Free Press. “It’s pretty ironic it ended up happening. I feel like it was God’s plan.”

Jalen Watts-Jackson sits in a wheelchair while speaking to the media four days after his fumble return beat Michigan … and led to a fractured hip. (Al Goldis/AP)

Watts-Jackson said he’d focus on cyber systems and operations while in service. It’s likely that he’ll be the only member of his unit whose college athletic career has been the subject of a Lego re-creation.


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