RICK CLEVELAND: Gabe Jackson has no regrets

Gabe Jackson could have been a high NFL Draft pick last spring but decided to return for his senior year at Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Gabe Jackson could have been a high NFL Draft pick last spring but decided to return for his senior year at Mississippi State. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

RICK CLEVELAND

RICK CLEVELAND

JACKSON

Gabe Jackson, Mississippi State’s 340-pound road grader of a guard, could be playing for large money on Sundays right now.

No doubt about it. He knows it. His coaches know it. NFL scouts know it. Those poor guys he flattened in State’s 62-7 victory over Troy on Saturday night know it, as well. Boy, do they know it.

But Jackson made the decision to stay and play his senior season at State – and he’s not looking back.

“It was pretty clear I would have gone fairly high in the draft this year, but I think I can go a lot higher by playing my senior season,” Jackson said. “I talked to my family and I talked to my coaches and I made a decision.

“Now, it’s up to me to make it pay off.”

Saturday night, I kept my binoculars on No. 61 in maroon for every play he played. If he missed an assignment, I did not see it. He dominated. On pass plays, Troy rushers bounced off him like ping pong balls. On running plays, Jackson steamrolled people.

Afterward, he was asked, “Did you play a perfect game?”

“I don’t remember missing a block, but I’m sure there was something I could have done better,” Jackson said. “There’s always room for improvement is the way I look at it.”

Several pro scouts were in attendance. Jackson didn’t disappoint. Said one high-ranking NFL scout: “He is one big and powerful man.”

Watching Jackson reminds me of watching NFL veteran Carl Nicks. They are similar in stature and power. Nicks is 6-feet-5 and 348 pounds. State lists Jackson at 6-4 and 340. Both are ridiculously nimble for being so huge. Saints fans are familiar with Nicks. He helped pave the way to the Saints run to the 2010 Super Bowl.

There’s one big difference between Jackson and Nicks. Nicks, now playing for the Tampa Bay Bucs, will make $12.5 million this season as the highest paid guard in the league. Yes, you read right: $12,500,000.

Even at his weight, that’s a lot of zeroes per pound. Guards are no longer the paupers of the NFL. They don’t make left tackle or quarterback money, but the great ones are often paid like star running backs.

Money can wait

Late Saturday night, Gabe Jackson was asked if he thought of the millions out there to be made.

“No sir,” he answered. “I mean, I can’t say it doesn’t pass through my mind, but if I think about it or dwell on it, then I’m not going to keep working to improve. I want to be the best player I can be and you don’t get that way by thinking about things like that.”

Jackson, a fifth-year senior out of Liberty, played high school ball for his father, Rev. Charles Jackson, a former Mississippi Valley State linebacker.

“My dad was my high school coach and principal, and he’s my pastor now,” Gabe Jackson said.

“Yes,” Jackson answered, when asked if his father was involved in his decision to remain at State. “My father is involved in everything I do. He’s the man I look up to most.”

Grounded in a way you would expect of a preacher-principal’s son, Gabe Jackson is a man of many talents. He can sing, play guitar and he can turn linebackers into pancakes.

He is as dependable as he is big. Saturday night marked his 43rd consecutive start at left guard for the Bulldogs. He did not allow a sack in 2012, has not allowed one in 2013. And don’t think he just picks on the little guys, like Troy of the Sun Belt. Last year against eventual National Champ Alabama, he graded out at 87 percent (with eight knockdown blocks).

But here’s what makes Jackson as good as he is: Even grading 87 percent against Alabama, he’s still concerned about the other 13 percent.

Rick Cleveland (rcleveland@ msfame.com) is executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.