Bulldogs’ Jackson worked his way to high acclaim

Gabe Jackson is a projected second-round pick, a far cry from his low-key arrival to Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Gabe Jackson is a projected second-round pick, a far cry from his low-key arrival to Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

By Logan Lowery

Daily Journal

STARKVILLE – Gabe Jackson came a long way from the true freshman who hid Snickers bars inside his pants in case he got hungry at football practice.

After starting all 52 games of his career at Mississippi State and being the only player in the program’s history to start four bowl games, Jackson is ready for the next step.

The 6-foot-4, 336-pounder is rated the top offensive guard in the NFL Draft by ESPN.com and is anxiously awaiting the phone call to find out his future destination.

“It’s like a dream,” Jackson said. “I never really thought this could be a reality. You always want to dream big and hope for the best but you never know how life’s going to go. I’m fortunate that it went a good way for me.”

Jackson is projected as a second-round selection by ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. after participating in both the Senior Bowl and NFL Combine.

But the two-time All-American was not always so highly regarded.

Jackson signed with the Bulldogs as a three-star prospect out of Amite County and was considered the 28th best prospect in Mississippi by Rivals.com in 2009. He attributes his improvement and success to the MSU coaching staff and learning from the veteran offensive linemen around him.

One of the players Jackson attempted to emulate was Derek Sherrod, who went on to be a Green Bay Packers first-round draft selection. Sherrod concluded his career at State in 2009 during Jackson’s redshirt season.

“I watched his work ethic,” Jackson said. “He was always working on his technique and being fundamentally sound. I watched how he practiced. Even when we didn’t have pads on he’d still be out there working on his technique.”

By the time his collegiate career was complete, Jackson had claimed both the Conerly and Hull trophies awarded annually to the top overall player and offensive lineman in Mississippi.

Jackson did not allow a sack in his final two seasons and earned SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week honors three times last fall. He is a three-time All-SEC selection and was also named to the SEC All-Freshman team in 2010.

There was speculation that Jackson could have entered the NFL Draft following the 2013 season. He tested the waters but decided it was in his best interest to return for his senior season.

“It was a great opportunity to come back and give it another go-around,” Jackson said. “I was able to play my senior year and enjoyed it with my other teammates. I think I performed pretty well but I can always be better.”

The NFL Draft begins at 7 p.m. tonight and will continue through Saturday on ESPN and the NFL Network.

logan.lowery@journalinc.com