By Robert Wilson

Northwest Rankin senior Jalen Nelson is one of the best defensive backs in Mississippi. In addition, first-year Cougar coach Devin Cooper decided to put Nelson on the offensive side of the ball at quarterback as well late in the first half against Meridian three weeks ago.

The move has worked out very well, especially last week.

The 6-foot-1, 170-pound Nelson completed 12 of 14 passes for 201 yards and three touchdowns and ran 19 times for 99 yards to lead Northwest Rankin to a 30-20 victory over Warren Central Friday night in Vicksburg.

For his outstanding performance, Nelson has been named the Junction Deli/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Football Player of the Week.

Nelson was selected to the Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson Preseason Elite Eleven this fall after his outstanding season as a cornerback last year for the Cougars. Cooper and his staff put in an offensive package for Nelson in August, but really didn’t use it much until the Meridian game.

Photo by Robert Smith

“(Offensive coordinator) Coach (Preston) Leathers installed a small package of plays for our offense. We referred to it as the Nelson package in August,” said Cooper, who replaced Toby Collums and came from Scott Central where he led the Rebels to a 35-6 record (85.3 winning percentage) in the last three seasons, including a 15-1 mark and MHSAA Class 2A state title in 2018, his first year at Scott Central. “The Meridian game was the first time we decided to use the package with Jalen at QB. His speed and athleticism gave Meridian some problems. They struggled to slow him and the offense down. He brings a run game threat along with a passing threat that puts pressure on defenses. We decided to go with the package in the Terry game last week and add some plays to the package.”

Nelson completed 6 of 12 passes for 97 with four TDs and ran 12 times for 97 yards and one TD in a 47-21 victory over Terry for the Cougars’ first win of the season after four losses. And then Nelson had his big game against Warren Central. Nelson also is still starting at cornerback and had two tackles last week. He has 12 tackles and leads the team with five pass breakups this season.

“Jalen is a great young man that will do anything you ask him to do to help his team win,” Cooper said. “He is a competitor. Most importantly, he is a senior leader on our team, and he wants the ball in his hands. Jalen is our starting corner, but we try to rotate him in and out on defense to keep him fresh as possible.” 

Nelson had 58 tackles, 2 interceptions and 12 pass breakups and helped the Cougars to a 9-4 record and their first second-round playoff win in school history last season. He was a first team selection on Priority One Bank/Mississippi Scoreboard Metro Jackson team.

Mississippi Scoreboard selects a football player from Hinds, Madison, or Rankin counties each week. Coaches can nominate a player by text or call to Robert Wilson at 601.506.2276 or email [email protected]