Why tight end D.J. Stevens' return is so important to Jackson State football

It was a banner year for Jackson State football in 2022, especially on offense. With graduation losses and 10 players transferring, it was good news to JSU coach T.C. Taylor when All-Southwestern Athletic Conference second-team tight end D.J. Stevens announced would return for the 2023 season.

Last season, Stevens was invaluable. His highlight came against Campbell after Jackson State was unable to score a touchdown in the first half and led only 9-7.

On the third play of the third quarter, Tigers quarterback Shedeur Sanders tossed a throwback pass across the field to Stevens, who outran the Camels’ defense for a 48-yard touchdown that sparked a 22-14 victory.

One of the reasons Stevens returned is new Tigers’ offensive coordinator Maurice Harris, who led prolific offenses under Hugh Freeze at Ole Miss and Liberty. With Harris as offensive coordinator last season, Liberty ranked 21st nationally in passing yards.

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While at Ole Miss, Harris coached two future NFL tight ends. Evan Engram was the 23rd pick in the first round by the New York Giants in 2017, and Dawson Knox was selected 96th overall by the Buffalo Bills in 2019.

Harris said Stevens, who had 37 receptions for 376 yards with four touchdowns in 2022, was one of the players setting the tone during the first day of spring practice and made some good plays.

“Next to the quarterback in this offense, our tight end position is the most difficult position to learn," Harris said. "It is probably our most valuable position because we do so much formation-wise. I’m excited about him (Stevens).”

Jackson State went 12-1 last season and played in the Cricket Celebration Bowl. JSU lost to North Carolina Central 41-34 in overtime. The Tigers will play their annual Blue and White game at 3 p.m. April 15 at the Mississippi Veterans Stadium.

This article originally appeared on Mississippi Clarion Ledger: Jackson State football: Why TE D.J. Stevens' return is so important