Watts-Jackson describes painful aftermath of winning TD

EAST LANSING, Mich. (AP) Michigan State’s newest celebrity sat in a wheelchair in front of reporters, describing a play that was part euphoria, part agony.

”I looked up at the clock to see how much time we had left. At that point I knew I couldn’t be tackled or didn’t have time to kick a field goal or whatnot, and I started running,” said Jalen Watts-Jackson, whose fumble return on the final play beat Michigan last weekend.

”I was actually going to dive into the end zone before I got tackled because I didn’t know if I was going to make it or not and who was behind me. After that it was pretty much pure pain.”

What was already a surreal finish Saturday took an even more bizarre turn afterward, when Watts-Jackson was taken to the hospital with an injured hip. He had surgery Sunday, so a few days elapsed before one of the play’s main protagonists could even talk about it publicly. On Wednesday, Watts-Jackson spoke to the media, saying he could tell his hip was hurt when he hit the ground – before his celebrating teammates piled on top of him.

”It felt like I was under there for an hour,” Watts-Jackson said. ”After watching, I guess I wasn’t under there that long, there were just a lot of people on top of me. Definitely being under the pile of all those people, being about 190 pounds, it’s not that fun of an experience.”

Watts-Jackson, a redshirt freshman from Dearborn, can appreciate the significance of this moment. His touchdown gave the seventh-ranked Spartans a 27-23 victory, their seventh in the last eight meetings with Michigan. It also kept Michigan State’s unbeaten season alive.

With 10 seconds left, the Wolverines were set to punt, but punter Blake O’Neill fumbled the snap, and the ball ended up bouncing to Watts-Jackson. Replays showed the clock expiring right as he reached the end zone, so he could have gone down earlier to set up a field goal that could have won the game. Instead, he cut back to the inside around the 10 and made it across the goal line, etching his name into this rivalry’s history.

”My teammates have been making jokes and stuff saying, `Bro, you’re about to get a statue made of you. You’re going to get your name put up in the stadium,”’ he said.

As for social media: ”My phone would freeze if I even tried to open the apps.”

Watts-Jackson was treated at the University of Michigan’s hospital – another twist in this wacky weekend. He made a point of thanking the people there as he wrapped up his news conference.

”Everyone was congratulating me and just making sure I was OK. That takes a lot, because I know how big of a rivalry it is, especially after seeing the way people react in the stands,” he said.

Watts-Jackson’s injury prevented him from getting up and celebrating with his teammates, and it wasn’t until after his operation that he began to appreciate the magnitude of his touchdown.

”It first hit me after I got surgery, my family came and I was just in my room, the hospital room by myself, looking at ESPN,” he said. ”They just kept playing it back and kept playing it back.”

Now comes the long road to recovery. Watts-Jackson says he’s been told it will be six or seven months before he’s running again. He hopes he can heal faster than expected.

As thrilling as the victory was for the Spartans, it came at a high price for Watts-Jackson, and the hours and days that followed were difficult.

”I was just trying to keep my mind off of everything that was going on because, like I said, it was like a great experience but at the same time I’m thinking, `Man, I’m down for the season. My hip is messed up,”’ he said. ”It’s easy to just sit here and tell everybody thank you, but my thought process at the same time was like, `Man, I wish I could be with my team right now. I just want to get back to East Lansing.’ It was a lot. But like I said, if I had to do it all over again, I definitely would.”

AP College Football: www.collegefootball.ap.org