Long before Jatavious Wilson became a record-setting receiver/kick returner at Central Arkansas, the senior grew up riding horses in and around the small Louisiana village of Mer Rouge.
“When I was young, I always went to rodeos with my daddy,” Wilson said. “I’d watch them rope the animals, and I told him I wanted to do that someday.”
By elementary school, Wilson was riding horses on his own and roping animals. He also started playing flag football around that same time.
Wilson remains a multi-sport athlete to this day. In fact, he went to Mississippi last month to participate in a roping competition when 13th-ranked UCA (8-1, 7-0 Southland) had a bye week.
Riding and roping has helped toughen up the speedy 5-8, 175-pound Wilson, who is considered one of the top ropers in northeast Louisiana.
“Sometimes I enjoy that more than football,” Wilson said. “If I’m having a bad day while back home, I like to go to the barn and ride horses and let everything leave my mind. It’s something I feel like I’m going to do forever.”
A preseason all-league selection as a receiver, kick returner and all-purpose player, Wilson has left a lasting mark on UCA’s program since an all-state career at Bastrop (La.) High. This season he’s set all-time school records for all-purpose yards (5,152), kickoff return yards (2,615) and kickoff returns (109).
Wilson entered this year as the program leader for career kickoff return TDs (three) and single-season kickoff return yards (1,140) and kickoff returns (46). He is second in Southland history in kickoff return yards and kickoff returns, third in kickoff return TDs and fourth in all-purpose yards.
“I didn’t really expect to set all those records,” said Wilson, who also has 175 career catches for 2,040 yards and 10 TDs. “A big kickoff return can give your team momentum, so I’ve always taken my job very seriously. I just want to do whatever I can to help my team.”
On the year, Wilson is tied for first in the league in all-purpose yards per game (123.3) and tied for third in receptions per game (5.0) and fifth in receiving yards (75.6 ypg). He’s returned only 15 kickoffs this season but has a career-high 680 receiving yards and three TDs on 45 catches.
Seven times this season he’s had 100-plus all-purpose yards, including a season-high 183 in a Sept. 24 win over reigning Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State.
Last week, Wilson had 150 all-purpose yards in a win over Stephen F. Austin. Third-year SFA head coach Clint Conque, who had the same job at UCA from 2000-2013, played a major role in Wilson signing with the Bears out of high school after holding off McNeese State and a late push from Texas A&M.
“McNeese wanted to give me a football scholarship and rodeo scholarship, but I wanted to get out of Louisiana because I’d lived there my whole life,” Wilson said. “Coach Conque used to come to my basketball games after football season and stop by my house and talk with me and watch TV with me. He made me feel at home going to UCA.”
As a true freshman Wilson was All-SLC honorable mention in Conque’s final season at UCA after he returned two kickoffs for scores and caught 41 passes. The following season Wilson earned first-team all-conference honors when he returned 46 kickoffs for 1,140 yards and one TD and grabbed 40 receptions for new coach Steve Campbell. Last year, he was All-SLC honorable mention again with 536 receiving yards and four scores on 49 catches as the 7-4 Bears tied for second in the league and narrowly missed the FCS playoffs.
In addition to his on-field success this season, Wilson was recently named to the CoSIDA Academic All-District 6 team. The health education major has a 3.3 grade-point average and is on track to graduate next spring.
“I loved his toughness because he was a roper and cowboy out of Bastrop, Louisiana,” Conque said of Wilson. “Every time he touched the ball he could make you miss in a phone booth, and you’ve seen that throughout his entire career at UCA. He’s a hard worker and a high-character, team guy and obviously one of the top all-time returners and receivers at the university.”
Wilson and the Bears can move a step closer to corralling a conference title with a win over Nicholls State (5-4, 5-2 SLC) Saturday on ASN.
“We wanted this to be a big year, so we worked all spring and summer and have been on a quest all season,” Wilson said. “We want to get a conference championship ring.”