'Hero' status overwhelming for Spartans' Jalen Watts-Jackson

ByDan Murphy via ESPN logo
Wednesday, October 21, 2015

EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State'sJalen Watts-Jackson said his overnight rise from anonymity to being etched in college football lore -- all while he lay in a hospital bed nursing a fractured hip -- has been as overwhelming as it has been enjoyable.

The redshirt freshman spoke from a wheelchair Wednesday for the first time in public since he returned a botched punt 38 yards on the final play of a 27-23 win over rival Michiganon Saturday.

Watts-Jackson, who broke his hip while being tackled into the end zone, said he has tried to return the flood of messages he has received since Saturday, but he hasn't been able to turn on his phone without it freezing because of the influx of new social media followers.

"It's crazy," he said, "that 10 seconds could take you from just being on the team to people tweeting you and text messaging you saying, 'You're a legend; You're a hero.'"

Watts-Jackson's rise to fame started when a fumbled punt attempt popped into his arms on the fateful play. He said he glanced briefly at the scoreboard when he got the ball to see if there was time to get out of bounds and attempt a field goal. When he saw only six seconds remaining, he decided he had to try to score.

A handful of teammates cleared the way for Watts-Jackson, who was finally hit at the goal line by Michigan tight end Jake Butt. The tackle dislocated Watts-Jackson's hip, and his joy turned quickly to pain when teammates piled on top of him to celebrate.

"I didn't know if I was going to make it or not," he said Wednesday. "I didn't know who was behind me. After that, it was really just pain. ... Being under that pile with all those people, being about 190 pounds, is not that pleasant of an experience.'"

The Detroit-area native said as painful as it was, he'd be happy to go through the whole ordeal again.

Watts-Jackson had surgery in Ann Arbor on Sunday and returned to campus in East Lansing on Monday. He said he has spent most of his time since then in the training room or in his apartment.

Doctors said he'll have to keep weight off the hip with a walker for the next three months. It will be six to seven months before he can begin running again, which will keep him out of spring practice in 2016.

Coach Mark Dantonio said earlier this week that Watts-Jackson has been playing "very, very well" on special teams so far this season and was close to earning playing time as a part of the Michigan State secondary. He may have to wait until August to resume his fight for more playing time.

"I'm hoping something will give before then and my process will be a little faster," he said.

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