Updated: Aug. 11, 2023, 11:51 a.m.|
Published Aug. 11, 2023, 11:50 a.m.
By Creg Stephenson
South Alabama returns two all-conference quality receivers in 2023 in Caullin Lacy and Devin Voisin, who combined for 129 receptions, 1,687 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
However, a little-known walk-on is poised to steal their thunder a bit this fall. Diminutive sophomore Jamaal Pritchett — a Jackson native who joined the Jaguars last fall from Tuskegee — has worked mostly with the first-team offense in preseason camp, and appears ticketed to be the team’s first option whenever a third receiver is needed.
And he has the full confidence of South Alabama receivers coach Michael Smith, who can easily relate to the 5-foot-8, 164-pound Pritchett. Smith was himself a 5-9, 160-pound walk-on at Kansas State some 35 years ago, and ended his career as the Wildcats’ all-time leading receiver.
“Jamaal Pritchett is a warrior as far as I’m concerned,” Smith said. “I think a lot of his teammates and, and people on this coaching staff would echo the same things.
“… I’ll be honest with you, it’s unfortunate that he had to be a walk-on, but I try and encourage him because that’s the path I had to take. The guy is an exceptional wide receiver, an even better person (who) loves playing football and just continues to master his craft. I’m sure people are going to say he’s going to sneak up on them, but it’s only going to take one time of a defensive opponent to watch him play, to recognize that, yeah, he’s a big-time player.”
The main reason Pritchett might have been overlooked to this point is his size, as he’s tiny even by slot receiver standards. He went to Tuskegee out of high school and was highly productive on the Division II level as a true freshman, catching 27 passes for 488 yards (an average of 18.1 yards per reception) and three touchdowns.
Believing he could make an impact at a higher level, Pritchett transferred to South Alabama in 2022. He quickly found a home with the Jaguars.
“I feel like it’s going pretty good,” said Pritchett, who is first cousins with Auburn cornerback Nehemiah Pritchett. “I learned a lot at Tuskegee and then came here and have been able to learn more from the coaches here. They have taken me in with open arms and given me a chance. I’m glad I made the decision.”
Pritchett has been something of a human highlight reel in practice and scrimmages since arriving at South Alabama, routinely outrunning and outperforming bigger and more celebrated defensive backs. He saw action in eight games for the Jaguars last season, mostly on special teams.
However, he got an opportunity to play with the offense in the season-ending New Orleans Bowl, when senior receiver Jalen Wayne briefly left the lineup due to injury. Pritchett caught a pair of passes for 24 yards in the Jaguars’ 43-22 loss.
“He is one of those guys that kind of falls into your lap,” Wommack said. “The guy had a good season at the D2 level and felt like he could compete at the Division I level. And he was absolutely right. He is not only a gifted athlete, but he’s an explosive playmaker. He’s one of the most fun guys on our offense with the ball in his hands after catch. And I think that’s saying something, considering some of the playmakers that we have in this offense right now. I’m so excited to see the steps that he’s going to take with a bigger role this season.”
South Alabama fall camp
Voisin came into last season having caught just two passes in his career, way back in his freshman season of 2019. But his production exploded after he started getting extensive playing time in 2022, finishing with 64 receptions for 867 yards and five touchdowns.
In other words, Voisin also doesn’t have to squint too hard to see a little of himself in Pritchett.
“When he first got here, I don’t know what it was, but I could just tell like he had that little ‘it’ factor,” Voisin said. “And then seeing him go through drills and then, with our group work, one-on-ones and then it carrying over into games, you can just tell that, he’s a football player, he’s a baller. You can ask anyone on the staff, anyone on the team, that he should be on scholarship. He just impresses us every single day. He’s a consistent guy. I try to be a consistent guy and I feel like he’s just as consistent as me.”
With Wayne off to the NFL, South Alabama spent the offseason looking to find capable receivers who could come right in and play this season. The Jaguars signed junior-college transfer Shamar Sandgren in December after he caught 81 passes for 1,128 yards and 11 touchdowns in two seasons at Itawamba (Miss.) Community College.
Memphis transfer Javon Ivory (a Grove Hill, Ala., native) also came on-board after totaling 98 catches for 1,335 yards and eight touchdowns in three seasons with the Tigers. Junior Jay’juan Townsend, walk-ons Jeremiah Webb and Keyshawn Woodyard and freshman Anthony Eager have also had their moments in the early stages of preseason camp.
“Bringing those young guys along is fun, man,” Smith said. “That’s why I’m in this business, to coach these guys, to get these guys to play at a high level. They’ve been working hard, doing some really good things these first couple days of camp. … We’ve got big shoes to fill, and I’m sure somebody in that room’s going to step up and make plays for us.”
Wommack said that “collectively,” South Alabama’s receiver corps is as good “as it’s been in our three years here.” That’s high praise considering the Jaguars have sent Kawaan Baker, Jalen Tolbert and Wayne to the NFL in the last three seasons.
It’s also a challenge, particularly given that the Jaguars run at least six deep at tight end with the return of veterans Lincoln Sefcik, Brandon Crum, DJ Thomas-Jones, Jacob Hopper and Todd Justice and the addition of freshman Trent Thomas.
“There are more receivers this year that we feel like we may have to try to get on the field,” Wommack said. “That’s going to be a challenge because the tight end room is so seasoned. And you’ve got a number of guys that deserve to be on the field. We’re going operate with a pretty significant amount of (two tight-end) personnel this year, but we’ve also got to find creative ways to get some of these play-makers in the receiver room the ball.” South Alabama holds its first scrimmage of preseason camp on Saturday morning at Hancock Whitney Stadium, though the scrimmage is closed to the public. The team’s Fall Fan Fest — free and open to the public — begins at 1 p.m.

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