Weber State football: New to receiver, Jacob Sharp runs onto radar for Wildcats
OGDEN — Like many students approaching the end of high school, Jacob Sharp wasn’t sure what his future held.
The two-sport athlete at Bethel High School in Vallejo, California, helped the basketball team to a 23-7 season and, because of his athleticism, played quarterback for the Jaguars.
But college interest was scant, sports-wise.
“It was a pretty unsure thing. I didn’t know which direction I was going to take,” Sharp said.
Three years later, Sharp is a big-play threat helping Weber State football’s offense seemingly reach new heights, providing new opportunities for the Wildcats to move the ball as they enter Big Sky Conference play.
Then-running backs coach Quinton Ganther was the first to focus on Sharp.
“We didn’t know what he was, but we knew he was something,” WSU head coach Jay Hill said.
WSU coaches saw Sharp play football and basketball, and they knew he was a high-level athlete, at least. So they offered him a scholarship.
“Once I got that call, it was football from here on out,” Sharp said.
The 6-foot-1 sophomore redshirted with the Wildcats as a defensive back in 2019 before being moved to receiver.
“Best athlete on the field, so they just put him at quarterback and he’d throw it every once in a while but mostly run,” WSU receivers coach Skyler Ridley said. “So we knew he had the ability with the ball in his hands to be elusive, to break tackles, to have that dynamic element to his skillset and game. It was just a matter of him learning the nuances of the position, what it takes to be a complete player.”
Spending time with an experienced, skilled defensive secondary was by no means a lost year.
“They taught me that no matter who we’re playing against, whether it’s practice or whatever, once we’re in between those lines, play with a chip on your shoulder,” Sharp said. “Play with an edge.”
Entering the 2022 season, receiver was one of the most discussed position groups during Weber State’s fall camp. Who would join senior Ty MacPherson and step up to make Mickey Mental’s new offense go?
MacPherson has done his part through three games, totaling 10 catches for 243 yards and five touchdowns. He and quarterback Bronson Barron began to see Sharp’s footing as a receiver take hold late in fall camp, and spent more time in his ear.
Step up and be a playmaker for us, they said.
“Really the last 10 days of camp, he was playing better than anyone,” Ridley said. “Bronson sensed that hey, this guy is a guy I could trust, throw the ball to and he’s going to fight and make catches.”
His athleticism and playmaking potential jumped off the gridiron in the first game. He made two catches on slants in traffic for 43 yards against Western Oregon.
Then Sharp totaled four catches for 87 yards at Utah State. That included two tough grabs in succession on the same drive, capped by a contested, back-shoulder reception to near the red zone.
It continued last week against Utah Tech. Sharp caught his first career touchdown on his first target of the game as Barron went over the top for a 35-yard touchdown in which Sharp beat his man downfield.
Sharp finished with seven receptions totaling 116 yards. His season totals: 13 catches for 246 yards.
“All throughout camp, just getting pushed by T-Mac and Bronson to just step up and be there for those guys … when it came to game time, I was just ready,” Sharp said. “And then we just did what we practiced all week.”
Ridley said it’s about a whole-person approach. Sharp has better grades than ever and bought into the focus and dedication it would take to become a good student and a difference-maker on the field.
What MacPherson (24.3 yards per reception, 12th nationally) and Sharp (18.9, 39th) have done isn’t just about the passing game, either, and is illustrated in the two plays that came before his 35-yard touchdown against Utah Tech. Damon Bankston gashed for runs for 29 and 12 yards to set up the score.
“Being able to stretch the field and have big plays on the outside is huge for the run game,” Ridley said. “We’re playing complementary, balanced football. It’s nice to have.”
Ridley, the former BYU receiver in his first season with the group after coaching tight ends for three seasons, says it’s also about “positive vibes” when Sharp picks up yards after the catch or MacPherson takes the top off the defense yet again.
“Making plays is contagious. One guy makes one, the next guy wants a piece of the pie. It builds this positive momentum,” he said. “Explosive plays become contagious. We’ve seen that in the last two weeks, how these types of game-changing plays become something that everyone starts doing, and there’s positive vibes on the sideline.”
Momentum is a debated idea in sports, but there’s not really a question that it felt a certain way when Weber State scored three first-quarter touchdowns against Utah Tech that only needed 17 plays to go 247 yards in a total of 5 minutes, 2 seconds.
“We come into practice and we all feel like we run a two-minute offense all game. So once we get on the field and we’re going fast, it’s just second nature. We just get in and go,” Sharp said.
Barron seems to have found a new level of accuracy and decision-making in the last two weeks, adding to Sharp’s emergence complementing MacPherson, slot receiver Haze Hadley and tight ends Justin Malone and Hayden Meacham, as well as an increasingly tough run game. The Wildcats have totaled 1,024 yards of offense in the last two games.
As improved as WSU’s offense has looked in wins over Utah State and Utah Tech, players know that there’s more work to do.
Inside one hallway leading to Weber State’s locker room is a board that lists opponents in columns across the top, and the team’s “plan to win” goals in rows down the side. If a given goal is met during a game, a silver Weber State logo marker is affixed to the spot on the board.
One of those goals is to score touchdowns on at least 75% of trips to the red zone. Through the first three weeks of the season, that row is blank.
Sharp says one of the unit’s mottos, “big trust,” will help the offense get better.
“We’ve still got a lot to improve on. We can go down the field 70, 80 yards and when it gets to the red zone, we’ve got to be able to punch it in every single time,” Sharp said.