Curran: MSU Defensive Back to Serve in U.S. Air Force, Surrendering Senior Season of College Football

Michigan State defensive back Jalen Watts-Jackson is foregoing his senior season of eligibility to join the U.S. Air Force.

The decision requires him to leave the sport he grew up playing, but he believes the move will only create opportunity.

“I have the chance to serve the country and the people that live in it while also being able to works towards a career for myself,” said Watts-Jackson.

Jalen has become a legend at MSU from a play that shocked many and stiffened a very good Michigan football team.

The finish of the 2015 Michigan vs. Michigan State football game was one of the most impromptu ends in college football history. It was a mishandled punt that led to a Michigan State touchdown and 27-23 victory as time expired that detained the moment.

Jalen Watts-Jackson was the one that picked off the loose ball and with his head straight forward and high hopes for blockers, went for the score. Diving into the end zone was a blur for Watts-Jackson and not from gauging the moment but from the scrutiny of pain from an injury he sustained landing in the end zone.

Zac Leimbach (42) and Jalen Watts-Jackson (20).

One of those first to greet him in the end zone was his defensive back counterpart, Zac Leimbach. Leimbach, the Walled Lake native, showed his support for his teammate’s decision to join the Air Force, just as he said his teammate would do for him on and off the field.

“He supports everyone else, he understands the full picture and knows what it’s like to be a team player. So, it actually makes a lot of sense he is going to the military,” said Leimbach.

Jalen Watts-Jackson learned a sense of comradery at a young age from his father that served in the Army.

“I always would see how my dad boasted about his days in the military and it made it seem more like glory days rather than a process to be afraid of,” Jalen says.

He took what he learned at home and then applied that to the gridiron. He had success playing at top-tier high school Orchard Lake Saint Mary’s. St. Mary’s instituted him in brotherhood and accountability for his classmates, where he learned the importance of sacrifice.

He will now begin his training for the U.S. Air Force as he steps away from his football playing career.

Jalen Watts-Jackson’s willingness to serve has shown us that sometimes we need to learn to give and not count the cost. Even if the ball is free.


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