JACKSONVILLE — Josh Pearson waited three years for this moment, so why not make it count?
In Jacksonville State's season-opening loss to North Carolina A&T, Pearson made his first career catch. Then another. And another. And another, another, another, another, another.
A redshirt junior, Pearson was playing in only his second collegiate game and was making his first start. He wound up with eight catches for 147 yards, which rank as the 14th most in a game in school history.
In keeping with his theme of getting a late start, all those catches came in the second half, after JSU coach John Grass told his offensive assistants that perhaps they should get Pearson the ball.
"All of those things could not have been possible without a great quarterback and the offensive line giving him the protection to get the ball to me," Pearson said this week. "I'm looking to get better and prepare each week."
Pearson arrived at Jacksonville State as part of the 2015 class along with eventual all-conference performers Marlon Bridges and Randy Robinson. Pearson was an invited walk-on out of Austin High School in Decatur.
He didn't get on the field into a game until last season when he played late in the year against Tennessee State. He admits that he wasn't as focused on his college responsibilities as he should've been, which delayed his chance to play.
"Coming in, I had a young mindset," Pearson said. "I wasn't thinking about going to class. Just being a freshman being away from home, you didn't have a parent who would get you up every day and make you go to class.
"I thought I was grown. I wasn't grown. Grades started to drop, and that's when life hit me."
It took time and a lot of work for Pearson to get everything set academically.
"I realized that I came to play ball and graduate with a degree," he said. "Once I had a mature mindset, that's when I was able to raise my grades back up, get ahead in the classroom, and get back to the field. And show what I'm capable of on the field."
Grass said he couldn't be more pleased to see Pearson develop into the type of student and player he has.
"A lot of people might've given up somewhere along the road," Grass said, "but he didn't."
Pearson is more than willing to spread the credit for keeping him motivated to get on the field. He mentioned his family, including parents Kristy Carter and Harold Pearson, brother Jacob Jones, and sisters Akila Carter and Christy Sanders.
He mentioned teammates, coaches from high school, college friends away from football, his pastor back home, and even former JSU baseball pitcher Derrick Adams, a friend from Austin High who is now pitching in the Kansas City Royals organization.
"They kept me uplifted," Pearson said. "It meant a lot."
He said he didn't realize he had such a big day against A&T until after the game when associate athletics director Josh Underwood informed him.
"It was amazing," Pearson said. "It was good. But, it's not as good when you take a loss."
Pearson said it helped that he and other JSU receivers spent so much time in the off-season with the team's primary quarterbacks, Zerrick Cooper and Zion Webb. He said it was plenty of "late nights and early mornings."
"It's what you do when people are not watching," Pearson said.
Now, Pearson is looking forward to seeing one of his fellow receivers have a breakout game. For possibilities, he mentioned juniors Daniel Byrd, Jerad Washington and Jamari Hester, senior Shaq Davidson, and freshman Ahmad Edwards, among others.
"We've been putting in a lot of work," Pearson said.