Patrick Ochs

This former South Mississippi receiver is emerging as one of SEC’s top targets

Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance tries to shake New Mexico State defender Jaden Wright during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Arkansas won the game 42-24.
Arkansas receiver Jonathan Nance tries to shake New Mexico State defender Jaden Wright during the second half of an NCAA college football game in Fayetteville, Ark., Saturday, Sept. 30, 2017. Arkansas won the game 42-24. AP

Jonathan Nance continues to do big things in the SEC — and to think he could have been at nearby Southern Miss.

Nance originally signed with USM out of high school, opting to graduate from Gulfport early to get a jump start on his collegiate career. But after the USM coaching staff toyed with the idea of moving him to defensive back, Nance opted instead to transfer to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.

The move clearly paid off.

Through five games this year, the former Admiral has been one of the SEC’s most productive receivers.

Perhaps overshadowed by fellow MGCCC teammate Brandon Martin in the Hogs’ last signing class, Nance has gradually emerged as a go-to target for Arkansas (2-3) and one of the conference’s best pass catchers.

Nance’s increased snaps were due in part to a season-ending injury to Jared Cornelius, but the former South Mississippi standout has certainly seized the opportunity.

Nance’s season started out slow with a three-catch performance for 25 yards against Florida A&M, but since then the 6-foot, 182-pound Gulfport native has excelled. He stepped up the following week with three receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown against TCU. In the three weeks that followed, Nance has totaled 17 receptions for 274 yards and four touchdowns.

“I love J-Nance,” Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen told WholeHogSports.com following the Razorbacks’ win over New Mexico State. “Wherever you throw the ball, he’s going to catch it. He’s a guy I’ve got a lot of trust in.”

Arkansas offer

Due in part to nagging injuries, Nance’s offer list out of MGCCC included the likes of Troy, Colorado State, Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Monroe. So it certainly raised a few eyebrows when the Hogs jumped into the fray for Nance. Knowing what we know now, Nance is making the Hogs look pretty smart.

“Here was a guy who kept showing up,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema told WholeHogSports.com. “Then when you got to be around him, just his composure, his demeanor, his attitude, his maturity was very, very clear.”

Nance told the Sun Herald in May 2016 he felt the Arkansas offer validated his choice to go the JUCO route.

“My hard work paid off. (The Arkansas coaches) were keeping everything real and straight to the point about how I fit in,” Nance said. “I feel like I proved I could play receiver instead of defensive back.

“I just like scoring and making plays.”

Tops in the SEC

Nance enters this week’s game tied atop the SEC’s leaderboard with five receiving touchdowns. He also ranks fifth in the receiving yards (374) and is tied for sixth in receptions (23).

Pro Football Focus grades college football players every week. Through Week 6, PFF has Nance as the third-best receiver in the SEC with an 82.4 grade. PFF also had Nance graded at 85.5 last week, making the SEC’s Team of the Week (along with former MGCCC teammate Isaiah Buggs, who’s now at Alabama).

Last week the site had Nance as the SEC’s top receiving target (with a minimum of 16 targets) with a passer rating of 158.3.

Not bad for a guy who once seemed earmarked to be a defensive back.

This week will be another big test for Nance and the Hogs as they visit Alabama for a 6:15 p.m. kickoff Saturday on ESPN. Through six games, the undefeated Tide has yet to allow a receiver to eclipse 100 yards and has surrendered a total of five passing touchdowns. Needless to say, Nance will have his work cut out for him on Friday.

Patrick Ochs: 228-896-2321, @PatrickOchs

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