College football • USU turning the WR loose as a playmaker.
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Logan • Down by three to UNLV, the Aggies badly needed an offensive playmaker to lead a scoring drive.
That Saturday night, Utah State went with the best they had: a 5-foot-7 receiver who stepped in as a wildcat quarterback, and kept relentlessly squirming through holes until he reached the end zone.
Jojo Natson ended up helping the Aggies win the game. But it was far from a desperate move. The coaching staff has long seen the Florida native's potential as a playmaker, but lately he's started to repay that faith.
"It's something I wish I could've started off more in the beginning of the season," Natson said. "But as the season went by, I gained a lot of confidence. I guess I got to show what I really can do."
In the past few weeks, Natson has seen more time as a running back and change-of-pace quarterback in an effort to get the ball into his hands more often. Sorely in need of an extra ground threat since Chuckie Keeton's season-ending injury, Natson seems to be filling that role lately. He had eight rushes for 61 yards and two scores against the Rebels, and the running role is in addition to the 45 catches he's made already this year.
In turn, it's helped boost the energy of the Aggies' second-year slot receiver. With the ability to make plays after the catch, on the run, or in the punt return game, teammates and coaches said Natson has been enthusiastic as ever in practice and games.
"The more we give him, he loves it," receivers coach Jovon Bouknight said. "He loves the fact that we're utilizing him in many different ways. He wants more and more. We're going to give him as much as he can handle."
Natson has always asked for more responsibility dating back to his high school years. He played receiver and scatback, but as he describes it, his role was simpler: "Just give me the ball and I'll make a play any way I can."
In Florida, one of the most talent-rich football states in the land, Natson didn't have the physical attributes that many top prospects can boast. At just 151 points, he could be mistaken for the ball boy if he wasn't wearing a uniform on the sideline.
But Bouknight was drawn in by Natson's highlight tape, which showed a extra large-sized competitive spirit.
"He's been a guy who's been told, 'You might not make it to the next level. You're too small to do it,'" Bouknight said. "He's a little guy who plays big. You watch the highlight tape, he's going across the midfield making catches against the bigger, faster guys. He's done it against the best."
It hasn't been all smooth translating that talent to the field. Natson has averaged only 7.2 yards per catch, and didn't have a touchdown catch to his credit until getting one against Hawaii. He also dealt with a leg injury during the season that slowed him down a step or two.
But there is a sense on the team that the more he touches the ball, the more good things will happen. The last few games are just evidence things are going that way for Natson.
"Jojo [can make plays] with his athleticism and ability to make people miss in space," teammate Travis Van Leeuwen said. "I think the way we're using him now fits his talents very well. And I think he'll continue to have a breakout season, as well, when we game plan for other defense."
Colorado Stateat Utah State
O Saturday, 1:30 p.m.
TV • CBS Sports
Jojo Natson making plays
• Second on the team with 45 catches for 324 yards
• Third on the team all-purpose yardage with 613 yards
• Only player to score touchdowns on a run, catch and return this year