Southern defense excels on third down in 42-28 win at Jackson State _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Surrounded by multiple Southern defenders, Jackson State's Jarius Moll drops to the ground during Saturday's game at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. The Jaguars won 42-28.

When Harold Jackson returned two years ago to coach at his alma mater Jackson State, he began the process of identifying his personnel and almost immediately gravitated toward an undersized but talented wide receiver.

In many ways Jackson, a five-time All-Pro wide receiver who spent 16 years in the NFL with five teams, saw a lot of himself in wideout Jairus Moll and continues to sing the praises of the former West St. John standout.

“When I first set eyes on him on the practice field, he was the guy I picked out when I got here,” Jackson said. “I was a small guy that played in the league, and he’s a small guy. I thought he was a football player. He’s made a lot of plays for us. He’s a great receiver.”

Because of a season-ending injury that cost Moll his entire sophomore season, the 5-foot-9, 180-pounder gets his first opportunity to oppose Southern (1-1, 1-0 in SWAC) in Mumford Stadium when Jackson State (0-2, 0-0) visits Saturday for a 5 p.m. kickoff.

Moll’s heard plenty about Southern and playing at Mumford from a deep roster of family members he counts as high as 15 that are either graduates of the school or ardent fans.

He said earlier in the week he was halfway toward his goal of trying to secure 25 tickets for the game.

“It’s very motivating,” Moll said of the game. “We talk all the time about who’s going to win. It’s a real hyped up game for me. When I was home, all we talked about was playing Southern. I want to do well in the game. Everybody’s watching, and I get to play against some of my old teammates.”

Not only were Southern’s sophomore quarterback Austin Howard and Moll friends while at West St. John — they developed into a consistent pass-catch duo during Moll’s senior season. The Jaguars also have sophomores Lemuel Ausama and Steven Brignac, a pair of West St. John graduates, on their roster.

“He was my best receiver,” Howard said. “He was my go-to guy. He’s a very good player. He works hard. He’s got good hands. He’s a very good guy.”

Before his career could truly take off, Moll had to deal with a fractured foot in the first game of his sophomore season against Tulane.

Moll caught 10 passes for 119 yards without a touchdown as a freshman but it was as a punt returner where his season ended on the artificial turf of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

“I knew I was going to play that season and had won a starting spot,” Moll said. “I came all the way up to get knocked down.”

Moll said his recovery went so well he returned to the field a step faster. With 6-foot-3 Dan Williams earning his team’s offensive MVP honors with 73 catches for 1,004 yards and nine TDs, Moll ranked third on the team as the slot receiver with 34 catches for 485 yards and six TDs.

Moll, who will graduate in May but is listed as a junior after receiving a medical hardship, has already caught eight passes for 71 yards and a pair of scores, pushing his career totals to 54 catches, 694 yards and eight TDs.

“I’m glad Coach Jackson’s here,” Moll said. “He’s taught me a lot. It’s great to have a man with that much knowledge. Not everyone has that opportunity.”

Advocate sportswriter Les East contributed to this report.