Josh Pearson

Jacksonville State wide receiver Josh Pearson has a record-tying 11 touchdown catches this season. Photo by Stephen Gross / The Anniston Star

JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State has five regular-season games left, but big-play receiver Josh Pearson already has a campaign manager for postseason awards.

It's a good one to have — junior Marlon Bridges, a safety and winner of his share of conference and national honors.

After Jacksonville State's 49-22 win over Tennessee State, Bridges walked slowly into the media room, saying "first-team All-American, Josh Pearson."

When the brief postgame conference was finished, he drilled home the point: "First-team All-American, Josh Pearson."

At this point, who would argue with Bridges. There's already plenty of people joining Bridges on that bandwagon, throwing hay and shouting, "Yahoo!"

Bridges caught eight passes Saturday for 137 yards and three touchdowns. He has caught at least one touchdown pass in all six of JSU's games. He already has 11 touchdown catches, and even though nearly half the season remains, Pearson has tied former JSU All-American Josh Barge for the school record.

Barge caught 11 touchdown passes in 2015 when the Gamecocks made it to the FCS finals, and while that hardly seemed like an unbreakable record, it figured that it would take a pretty good receiver to challenge it.

Pearson clearly is pretty good at what he does. It helps that his first-team quarterback, Zerrick Cooper, has what JSU coach John Grass described as an "NFL arm." If Pearson beats his defender, Cooper can get it to him.

But when backup Zion Webb was in the game Saturday, Pearson latched onto a 23-yarder for a touchdown from him.

Afterward, Grass broke down Pearson's game, and the list seemed to include everything you would want from a receiver.

He's got good speed and good hands. He can run the deep route — nine of his 11 touchdown catches have covered at least 20 yards, including the three Saturday of 31, 35 and 23 yards.

He's 6-foot-4 with long arms and he has good reach. If he has to go up in the air and grab a ball before a defensive back can reach it, Pearson can do that.

He has another quality that works well for him, too. He doesn't seem too wrapped up in the amazing numbers he is putting up.

Two weeks ago, Austin Peay limited him to three catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. The Govs focused on him, and JSU teammate Jamari Hester had a chance to shine with 146 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Pearson seemed the same after that game as he did Saturday.

Teammates and his friends outside the team seem to value that about him. He seems like a guy who inspires loyalty from those around him, which might be part of why Bridges spoke up for him after Saturday's game.

Perhaps that's why Bridges gets so much support from his old school — Austin High in Decatur. Those folks are relentless on social media in showing how much they celebrate his success.

Pearson graduated from Austin in 2015 and arrived at JSU as an invited walk-on. He didn't see the field in 2015 or 2016. He has struggled with grades and missed most of 2017 because he wasn't eligible.

He said that during those three seasons when the average JSU fan had no idea who he was, his classmates, coaches and teachers from Austin didn't abandon him. He added that even now, he'll get text messages of support from them. Sometimes they include reminders that he needs to keep doing what he did to improve as a student.

The loyalty works both ways.

A mention of his alma mater caused Pearson to light up and say strongly, "A-High till I die, Black Bear forever."

There will come a day — maybe even the next game — when he catches only one pass for 10 yards. He won't catch a touchdown in every game.

That should be fine for the Gamecocks because they have the deepest receiver unit that they've had since Grass took over as head coach in 2014. Also, tight ends Landon Rice and Trae Barry provide large and capable targets.

But Pearson is going to be a threat. And perhaps at the end of the season, the All-America teams will include him.

And Bridges. Definitely him. You don't think he would tout somebody as an All-American if he didn't know what it takes to be one?

Sports Editor Mark Edwards: 256-235-3570. On Twitter: @MarkSportsStar.

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