Jalen Day didn’t become an imposing linebacker on the Howard Bison defense overnight.
The redshirt senior from Winston Salem, NC, who switched from No.41 to No.17, played in a limited number of games in his freshman season. In his sophomore campaign, Day started showing the potential that got him recruited by schools such as East Coastal Carolina, UNC and Appalachian State out of East Forsyth High School. Day played in 11 games, started one and was sixth on team in tackles (27).
“I can play in space real good and if my coach needed me to or asked me to play man to man against a running back or tight end I have the ability and confidence to do so,” Day told the Shadow League on Friday. “But I try to make sure every aspect of my game is up to par with no holes, whether it’s blitzing off the edge or making plays inside the box…”
Last year Day blossomed into a star on defense, leading the Bison with 79 total tackles. Day's multi-faceted game was on full display in Howard's last game of the 2015 season, a tough 32-31 loss to Delaware State in which he blocked an extra-point attempt and raced up the field for the defensive two-point score, giving Howard a 16-13 lead to start the second quarter.
Day says the breakout year was a combination of his natural progression, overcoming injuries that had thwarted his physical progress and finally being in tune with his defensive assignments.
“Before my junior year of high school I was getting recruited pretty good,” Day said. “The school at the top of my list was Virginia because I had family that played there and I had good times over there with those people."
“In my junior year I tore my ACL in high school and bounced back to have a great senior year. I had a couple of bigger schools come and talk to me but none of them really offered that scholarship. I came down to Howard on a visit and they offered the scholarship. A few days later I became a Bison.”
Then his football evolution began.
“I had to really put in time and sit down and learn the defense, which is something I didn’t have to master in high school," Day tells TSL. "I don’t care how fast or how good a player is coming in...if you don’t know the defense, you’re going to play slow. Another thing is, I had to get healthy. I tore my ACL again at the beginning of my freshman year in college.”
Day, who has pro aspirations, but says he will pursue coaching if he doesn’t make the NFL, has eight tackles so far this season in two games. And after facing what is sure to be his most challenging offensive squads of the season already, he’s prepared to take off like a rocket and keep increasing those numbers and the team’s fortunes on Sept. 17th when Howard meets arch nemesis Hampton in the AT&T Nation’s Football Classic.
(Photo Credit: epspn.go.com)
“I was telling my teammates, there’s no reason why we should be lacking any confidence to go in there and beat Hampton after our showing in these first two games against Big Ten opponents (Maryland and Rutgers),” said Day. “ If you look at the last game against Rutgers it was tied 14-14 at the half. Against Hampton we have to avoid the mental errors and just stay locked in and loaded.”
(Howard linebacker Jalen Day defends a Rutgers player)
Day told TSL that avenging last year’s NFC loss is top priority for the entire university and its extended family. Losing week in and week out wasn’t something Day was accustomed too last season, so a win over Hampton on Saturday would provide a much needed confidence boost to the entire program.
“Everybody wants to win that Hampton game,” said Day. “I can honestly say if we didn’t win another game, but won the Hampton game, everybody would be satisfied. I’m not saying that’s going to happen but that's just how much that game means to people. If we win that game then everybody...faculty, students, players from other teams...they all just feel good.”