SAN DIEGO — Seems strange that Alfred Jackson, the San Diego State receiver who always seems to be at the right place at the right time, never wanted to be there in the first place.
Jackson always wanted to be somewhere else. Like on defense. That was where he started his college career and, if it were up to him, that's probably where he would like to finish. Playing cornerback.
Chances are, he won't get the chance.
Instead, Jackson will do as Coach Denny Stolz says. He will start at split end in the Aztecs' pass-happy offense. Judging from the early results, worst things have happened.
In the Aztecs' first two games, Jackson has caught 8 passes for 94 yards and a team-leading 3 touchdowns. Only junior tight end Kerry Reed-Martin, with 9 receptions for 115 yards, has caught more. Last season, Jackson caught 18 passes for 256 yards and a team-high 4 touchdowns. Of his seven touchdowns, two have been game-winners.
"I guess I'm happy as a receiver," Jackson said, with a limited degree of enthusiasm. "I'm over the disappointment. The whole of last year I was in moods. I got moody because I was at a position I didn't want to be playing. Sometimes I would just hang in there. Other times I just went through the motions. That's when the coaches really got on me--'You really got a lot of growing up to do.' I've basically overcome that, and I know what I can do now."
Stolz never had a doubt what Jackson could do. It wasn't long after Stolz took over as SDSU coach after the 1985 season that he moved Jackson to wide receiver from cornerback. It was a move borne of necessity and invention.
The Aztecs' top receivers were gone, having both been selected in the National Football League draft--Webster Slaughter by the Cleveland Browns in the second round and Vince Warren by the New York Giants in the fifth.
"We had two cornerbacks, Michael Nunn and Mario Mitchell, returning, and we needed a receiver real bad," Stolz said. "Alfred was the obvious choice. So we moved him, and it was a good thing we did because he was the dominant receiver we had last year. He was the big play receiver."
Not only did Jackson make game-winning catches against Cal State Long Beach and Colorado State, the latter coming with two seconds left, but he set up the Aztecs' only touchdown in a 10-3 victory over Brigham Young with a 43-yard reception. His 45-yard catch in a 39-38 Holiday Bowl loss to Iowa put SDSU in position for what, at the time, appeared to be a game-winning field goal.
"Alfred just always seems to be where the action is," quarterback Todd Santos said. "Whenever we needed a big play last year, he was there."
But it took several talks from Stolz and wide receiver coach Dana Bible before Jackson finally accepted that he would play as a receiver, not a cornerback.
"It was a matter of perspective," Bible said. "His image of himself was as a defensive player. It was just a role change. He had to go through that transition period.
"The thing about Alfred is that he's always been upbeat. If there was any apprehension about the move, he masked it well. He never complained at the expense of the team. He is a team player, and he's worked hard to be a better receiver. There is no secret to Alfred's success. He has worked hard. Nothing came easy to him."
In his first play as a freshman, Jackson blocked a punt against Long Beach that the Aztecs recovered for a touchdown. Two games later against Colorado State, Jackson blocked another punt. He played sparingly that season as a cornerback, but when Stolz took over, Jackson found new life as a wide receiver. Even if he didn't always appreciate it.
"They made me play wide receiver," said Jackson, a 5-foot 11-inch, 185-pound junior. "It wasn't like I wanted to play it. I felt like I could have played defensive back. It was just I liked being a defensive back. That's what I came here for. It never crossed my mind that I would be a receiver. I think the reason is that I don't like being hit.
"I talked to Coach Stolz about it. He said, 'Look, that is going to be your position as long as I'm here.' It was basically 'Grow up guy. You're in college now. This is not high school. It's a business.'
"I was just being a baby about it. It was something I really didn't want to do. But I thought about it this summer. I guess I really can be a pretty average receiver. I'm going to go out and give it all I can. That's what I told myself when I came back to camp this summer. I'm a receiver now, there's nothing I can do about it."
So Jackson has adapted, sometimes spectacularly. His four touchdown catches last season came on sideline streaks. "That's my best pattern," Jackson said. "X-streak. When they call that I light up. I know we're going after these guys."
His three touchdowns this season have been just as pretty. Two have come on leaping catches in the corner of the end zone and the third on a post pattern between two defenders with just eight seconds left in the first half against Utah.