|« Jacksonville a big jump up for The Citadel||Conference newcomer SSU seeks respect »|
Coastal Carolina’s Jacobs looks to build on success
When linebacker Andrae Jacobs met with defensive coordinator Curtis Walker about a week before the start of preseason camp last summer, Walker shared with him a copy of Coastal Carolina’s projected defensive depth chart.
It listed the third-year sophomore as a starter and came with a message.
“He asked me was I ready?” Jacobs recalled recently.
Of course, Walker already knew the answer to that question, and over the following few months Jacobs would deliver an emphatic response as he tallied 104 total tackles (second most in the Big South) and 12 tackles for loss on his way to earning the conference’s defensive player of the year honor – the first Coastal Carolina player to ever achieve that feat.
Looking back, Jacobs admits his goals for the 2010 season were a little more modest initially, like simply cracking the starting lineup, placing in the top five on the team in tackles and maybe the top 10 of the league.
“For Andrae, it was like one year ahead of plan,” CCU coach David Bennett said of Jacobs’ breakout 2010 campaign. “It was one year ahead of schedule.”
Now, as the Chanticleers count down to the start of a new season Saturday night against Furman, Jacobs is an established junior with a standard to uphold, a recognized star in the conference voted the preseason favorite to repeat as defensive player of the year.
And the only question for the 5-foot-11, 230-pound playmaker this year is what does he have planned for an encore?
“I’m just trying to be the best that I can be every day,” Jacobs said plainly. “I mean, I had a good year last year, but this year [it’s] not promised I’m going to have the same numbers – not one bit. I’ve just got to keep working hard.”
A good fit
Bennett said recently in a conversation about Jacobs’ breakthrough season that a coach never really knows what kind of player a recruit will turn out to be, but the Coastal Carolina coaches were no doubt intrigued by the linebacker’s prospects from the start.
Jacobs turned in a superlative senior season for South Columbus (N.C.) High School, leading a dominant defensive attack while helping the squad to a school-best 15-1 record, and he came with a strong recommendation from then-Stallions coach Joey Price.
As the story goes, when the CCU coaches decided they were ready to offer Jacobs a scholarship, an assistant coach phoned Price to let him know first. Price quickly relayed the message to Jacobs, who happened to be on a recruiting visit at UNC-Pembroke, which was also very interested in the player’s services.
“Coach Price called me when I was at Pembroke and told me to ‘Come home, Coastal offered you, we’re going to Coastal,’ ” Jacobs said. “… I got offered on a Saturday and committed on Sunday or Monday.”
It was the right fit, said Jacobs, whose hometown of Tabor City, N.C., is less than 30 miles from Conway and whose father works nearby at Myrtle Beach Primary School.
And while the Chants couldn’t have known then that they were getting a future Big South defensive player of the year, they liked what they had seen of Jacobs to that point.
Senior linebacker Desmond Steward can attest to that. Steward, who would later help with Jacobs’ maturation into the college game and the Chants’ defense, recalls seeing some high school footage of his future teammate while walking through the coaches offices a few years ago.
“I walked in one day and they were just playing a highlight tape and they asked me what I thought about the guy. I was like, ‘He can hit!’ ” Steward recalled.
The opponents on the Chants’ schedule would soon learn that as well.
Jacobs wasted no time turning in a breakout performance in the season opener last year at West Virginia, finishing with a game-high 11 tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss against a ranked Mountaineers squad.
All the while foreshadowing what was to come over the rest of the fall.
“I wanted to come out and let it be known that I was here – you know, I’m here to stay,” Jacobs said.
There’s no doubt about that now, but looking back, Jacobs credits Walker with first seeing through some of his rough edges and realizing the player he was ready to become.
“Coach Walker had a lot of patience with me because I used to mess up, I wasn’t a great leader at the beginning,” Jacobs said. “He stayed on me. That’s one thing he always did – he always stayed on me. And he was pretty patient with me, pretty lenient because I know some days I came out and had a little attitude or stuff like that, but he just stayed on me and kept pushing me. …
“I guess he [saw] something in me that I didn’t see in myself at that time. I thank him for seeing that – seeing the drive and seeing my potential and getting it out of me.”
That process isn’t done yet, though.
Jacobs acknowledges he still has weaknesses in his game. While he’s proven to be a hard-hitter with a knack for making plays in the backfield, he knows he needs to improve at dropping back into pass coverage.
“He still has untapped potential,” Walker said. “Even though he was a player of the year in the conference, he still has some things he needs to work on to make him the best player possible.”
While Jacobs looks to take that next step this year, he hopes the Chants’ defense does as well. As part of his refined and more ambitious list of goals for the upcoming season, he says he wants to lead the conference in tackles this time, and on top of that, he wants Coastal to finish as one of the top 10 defenses in all of FCS football.
“Right now, I have a little more confidence than what I had last year,” Jacobs said. “The guys this year, man, [it’s] my team that really makes this feel better because we all came in last year and we were just playing – we were underclassmen playing. Now we’re coming back [as] upperclassmen starting now. Now we’re in control of a lot of things. …
“It’s not like we’re deer in headlights anymore. When those lights come on, we’re confident in ourselves.”
With eight returning starters back on the defensive side, optimism is indeed high for the unit.
And, of course, it doesn’t hurt having the reigning Big South defensive player of the year in the middle of it all.
By RYAN YOUNG, The Sun News