This tackle by Vanderbilt's Feleti Afemui on Aug. 31 in Nashville resulted in a broken left hand for Georgia's Kearis Jackson and altered the Bulldogs' rotation at flanker and punt returner. Jackson is now fully recovered and ready again to show his worth. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton
Photo: ccompton@ajc.com/Curtis Compton

Kearis Jackson may be an answer to Georgia’s receiver woes

“I’m healthy and ready to show everybody what I can do,” Jackson said this week.

Remember Jackson? He was an AJC Super 11 player and an Under Armour All-American when we signed with the Bulldogs out of Peach County in 2018. Since then, he’s had fits trying to get onto the football field.

And it hasn’t been his fault.

He showed up to UGA as an early enrollee with a broken left wrist suffered in the state high school playoffs his senior year. But Jackson was able to show the Bulldogs what he had in spring practice.

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Jackson was continuing to impress in preseason camp last year. He had all but earned himself a place in the receiver rotation when he pulled a hamstring two weeks before the season opener against Austin Peay.

What was thought might keep him out just a few weeks ended up costing him the whole season.

“I kept trying to rush back and didn’t let it heal all the way,” Jackson said. “That was hard to overcome.”

The success of the receiving corps last season allowed Jackson to redshirt.

Fast forward to this year and Georgia could finally cut Jackson loose. Largely because of his physical style of play and willingness to lock up with defensive backs, the 6-foot, 200-pound redshirt freshman beat out Demetris Robertson and freshman Dominick Blaylock to earn the starting job at flanker. He won punt-returner duties, too.

Those were Jackson’s roles as the Bulldogs showed up in Nashville for the season opener against Vanderbilt. He had two catches for 31 yards and a 6-yard punt return with no fielding issues in the 30-6 victory.

But in the fourth quarter, as he drove for extra yards after a catch inside the Vanderbilt 10, Jackson’s left hand failed him again. Somewhere in the course of being tackled by linebacker Feleti Afemui – who ironically was wearing a club cast on his right hand that may have contributed to the injury – Jackson suffered two fractures in his left hand.

Worse to him was the fumble that also came on the play. The Commodores recovered at the 5.

“I feel like I let my team down, but that won’t happen again,” Jackson said.

To add insult to injury, surgery was required to fix the fractures. No. 10 was on the sideline again.

“It was very frustrating to have another hand injury in the first game like I did, but I didn’t let it affect me,” Jackson said. “At that point, I got closer to God. I started praying more, and that’s when blessings started coming my way. I’m trying to be a blessing for my teammates as well by being encouraging.”

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Jackson has set a good example as well. Since undergoing surgery the first week of September, Jackson has been on the practice field almost every day. Even though he was wearing a club cast that completely covered his left hand, Jackson ran routes and caught what balls he could in practice.

Jackson got the cast off earlier this month and started wearing a specially designed brace that allowed him to catch the ball with both hands. In the meantime, sports-medicine director Ron Courson recommended Jackson keep a bucket of a rice on his bedside table at home. That way he could strengthen the muscles in his hand on his own time by opening and closing a fist every day. Jackson said he has made sure to do it without fail.

Not coincidentally, Jackson made the dress-out roster for the past two games, against Tennessee and South Carolina. He was able to get for plays in both games specifically to block.

“Kearis has been able to get in and do some physical things for us,” coach Kirby Smart said.

As of yet, a ball hasn’t come Jackson’s way. But he is expecting that to happen soon. He shed the brace this week and has been catching an extra 200 balls per day off the Juggs machine at night after practice.

“That equals 1,000 a week,” Jackson said proudly. “So, I’m just trying to get better by putting in the extra work.”

Just the fact that Jackson was where he was this week, being assigned to represent the team in post-practice interviews, is an indication of how the Bulldogs feel about this hard-luck receiver.

Whether he’s the answer to the problems Georgia has had producing explosive plays remains to be seen, but Jackson produced one in his only opportunity earlier this year.

For his part, Jackson said he doesn’t care if it’s him or not.

But he firmly believes the Bulldogs’ receiving corps is much more dynamic than it’s being credited for.

“We’re a very talented room,” Jackson said. “We’re down guys right now, but there’s enough talent in there for us to come back and for guys to step up. We’re getting a lot of reps and we’re talented enough to go out and perform the way we’re supposed to perform.”

In the meantime, Jackson’s just happy to be healthy again and back in the mix. If he ever feels down about his situation or impatient about all the work he’s had to put in just to get back on the field, he said he simply looks down at the inside of his forearms to read the advice there in permanent ink inscription.

There he can find the Bible verse from Philippians 4:13 written out on the inside of his right arm and the Serenity Prayer on that oft-casted left arm.

“Even though I can’t change what happened to my hand, I know what I can do to help my team and to help myself and be prepared and be ready to affect anything that comes my way,” Jackson said.

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