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JSU football: After trying receiver at AU, Fuqua finds a home as a JSU safety

Jacksonville State FSU

Jacksonville State's Kolbi Fuqua scores on an interception return.

JACKSONVILLE — Major position questions occupied Jacksonville State during its prolonged football offseason. A big one surrounded how JSU would replace ball-hawking All-America safety Marlon Bridges.

Hello, Kolbi Fuqua.

Thanks for dropping in.

Fuqua dropped in loudly during JSU’s 41-24 season-opening loss at Florida State. His first-quarter interception return for a touchdown became the Gamecocks’ first glimmer of hope.

His near repeat in the fourth quarter nearly revived hope.

It was an immediate breakthrough for the former Cordova High School star who tried playing receiver at Auburn and seems to have found a home as a JSU safety.

“JSU ended up giving me a chance, so I took that chance,” Fuqua said.

Fuqua’s pick-six in Tallahassee marked JSU’s first since Bridges did the same to Eastern Washington in 2019.

Such plays were common for Bridges. From his earliest days at JSU, ball-hawking plays became his signature. He returned interceptions for touchdowns during his sophomore, junior and senior seasons and had four interceptions as a freshman.

He was like an offensive player on defense. Fuqua has similar skill sets and shows no problem adapting to a defensive mindset.

“He’s an athletic guy and a quick guy,” said JSU tight end Trae Barry, who has sparred with Fuqua in practice. “He can really do it all. He’s physical. He’s strong. He’s fast. He’s good with his feet.

“He’s competitive, and he can make me mad sometimes when he tries to lock me down. It’s just good to have that iron-sharpening-iron mentality and make each other better.”

Fuqua signed with Auburn as a three-star athlete, with possibilities as a receiver and safety, and played receiver.

He redshirted after playing one game in 2018, entered the transfer portal, and participated in spring practice anyway. He removed his name from the transfer portal but remained down the depth chart at receiver.

He left Auburn in May of 2019 to begin a still-bumpy ride at JSU.

“He’s grown as a player and a person over the last year,” JSU coach John Grass said. “He just wasn’t quite there last year. I think it was a lot of just immaturity, on and off the field.”

As Fuqua described it, “I almost messed it up again.” Time away over the Christmas break helped him to figure it out.

“I moved on and came back in January and came out strong throughout practice in the whole entire spring and the fall, whatever we had,” Fuqua said. “My coach called my name and gave me a shot, and I told him I wasn’t going to let him down this year.”

So far, so good.

Fuqua undercut Tate Rodemaker’s pass for a 13-yard touchdown return on FSU’s first possession Saturday. It gave JSU a 7-0 lead and launched the Gamecocks into a promising first half.

They led by 14 points twice and held a 21-14 edge at halftime.

With JSU trailing 34-24 early in the fourth quarter, Fuqua nearly did it again. He crossed the line of scrimmage, right in front of Jordan Travis’ quick pass to the sideline. At point-blank range, the pass hit Fuqua’s hands, but he couldn’t control it.

“I wish he would’ve got that second one,” Grass said. “The first one, that was just a great play. He got out there and made that catch. He got us off to a great start there, and that swung the momentum to us early.

“The one the second half, it was still a two-score game. If he picks that off, even if he doesn’t score, we’re still in position to get a field goal or a touchdown, and we have a shot. We’re back into a one-possession game.”

In his first game in two years, Fuqua came away with a pick-six, a pass breakup and six tackles.

“It felt great, but after all of that, it doesn’t really mean much after the game,” he said. “We have to put that behind us and move on and get ready for Mercer.”

Sports Writer Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter: @jmedley_star.