Josh Pearson’s redshirt junior season at Jacksonville State surprised even him.
The former Austin Black Bear burst forth with a school-record 17 touchdown receptions to go along with 1,123 yards on 67 catches.
His record-setting performance came after he was sidelined in 2017 with eligibility issues. He also didn’t see any action in 2016 or 2015—his first two years with the Jacksonville State program.
“I had a lot of mistakes and curves in the road,” Pearson said. “It finally paid off once I got my act right. I wasn’t expecting the season that I had, really. It was a great season.”
Pearson finished 2018 as a first team Football Championship Subdivision All-American and a first-team All-Ohio Valley Conference selection.
That success has Gamecocks fans and coaches eager to see what he will do this season. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound playmaker was selected to the preseason All-OVC first team at OVC media days in Nashville on Monday before stopping in Huntsville to meet with the local media. Jacksonville State was also picked to win a sixth straight OVC Championship.
The Gamecocks open the season at Southeastern Louisiana on Aug. 29. Last season, Pearson’s first catch went for a 40-yard touchdown in the season opener against North Carolina A&T. That started his run of eight consecutive games with a touchdown catch.
Pearson recognizes that he now has expectations that he has to manage.
“You have to play on the edge now because people are holding me to expectations,” Pearson said. “It’s kind of crazy, but I kind of love it at the same time. They put their faith in me, and I don’t want to fail anybody.”
Pearson and his coach, John Grass, admit that Pearson was immature when arrived in Jacksonville as a walk-on in 2015. That followed a season for Austin High where he was a second-team All-State selection.
Pearson’s 2018 season was as big of a coming-out party as an FCS player can have. Not many players break school records in their first season seeing major snaps. It didn’t come without some hard lessons that Pearson had to learn in those first three seasons.
“He persevered. A lot of guys would’ve went home and just quit,” Grass said. “He stayed with it. You look back on that, and it’s a story to motivate other guys.”
Once Pearson learned those lessons, he became one of Jacksonville State’s leaders. He was the second Jacksonville State athlete to win the OVC’s Steve Hamilton Sportsmanship Award.
Pearson is now being looked at as someone who could have a shot at making an NFL team if he stays healthy and keeps his production up. Pearson was tied for first in the FCS in touchdown receptions. Those 17 touchdowns would’ve led the Football Bowl Subdivision as well.
He’s also become a major role model for young football players in Decatur. With his final season as a Gamecock coming up, setting an example for those who look up to him is important to him.
“The Austin and Decatur community support me,” Pearson said. “I love those people back at home. They are always on my back making sure I stay positive and stay strong. They push me to be great.”