When former Bishop Gorman wide receiver Jalen Nailor returned to the Michigan State campus after catching five passes for 221 yards and three touchdowns in the Spartans’ 31-13 victory at Rutgers Saturday, he discovered he had a new fan.
“MSU@Coach_mtucker had the Spartans well prepared as they went on the road and crushed Rutgers 31-13!! QB Payton Thorne threw for 339 yards but the star of the game was Jalen Nailor. Nailor’s 3 touchdowns were all over 60 yards! Go Green! Go White!” wrote Magic Johnson on Twitter.
One of Nailor’s ardent fans in Las Vegas suggested the former NBA and MSU great was a bit late to the party.
Bishop Gorman coach Brent Browner was a Gaels assistant when Nailor was a wide receiver and defensive back and won four state titles in track and field, thereby legitimizing his nickname of “Speedy.”
So it probably comes as no surprise to Browner that his former player is now social media pals with a basketball legend while being mentioned in the same sentence as former Michigan State receiving stars Andre Rison and Plaxico Burress.
MSU @Coach_mtucker had the Spartans well prepared as they went on the road and crushed Rutgers 31-13!! QB Payton Thorne threw for 339 yards but the star of the game was Jalen Nailor. Nailor’s 3 touchdowns were all over 60 yards! Go Green! Go White!
— Earvin Magic Johnson (@MagicJohnson) October 9, 2021
“Rarely do you have kids who play both ways at Gorman and he was a kid who did that — and he did it at a real high level, too,” said Browner, who was the Gaels’ defensive backs coach at the time. “The best thing about him is he could be kind of a quiet young man but he was just a constant worker.”
But it was on offense, where Nailor teamed with Dorian Thompson-Robinson, now a star quarterback at UCLA, that Nailor most impressed recruiting coordinators.
Browner said the two were not joined at the hip but at the end of a square out. If one wanted to get up early or stay up late to throw practice passes or run post patterns, the other always was a willing participant.
“Him and Dorian were out throwing more than I think two guys have ever thrown together,” Browner said. “Just constantly working his craft, constantly trying to get better, working to be the best he could be.”
Nailor’s 208 first-half receiving yards at Rutgers broke the stadium record of 207 set by Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald in 2003. Despite catching only one pass in the second half, Nailor’s 221 total receiving yards were the fourth-most in a game at Michigan State behind Charles Rogers’ 270, Burress’ 255 and Rison’s 252, and earned Nailor co-Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week honors. His three TDs covered 63, 63 and 65 yards.
The single-game haul nearly equaled his total output in MSU’s first five games. But when Spartans quarterback Thorne turned to Nailor to exploit the Scarlet Knights, he stepped up like a fitness buff on a StairMaster.
“We just grind and grind every day, just trying to try to make explosive plays whenever we can, and that was the result today,” Nailor said during the postgame news conference. “Payton found me and I made it easy on him. He told me that.”
Nailor starred on two national championship teams at Gorman, where he caught 52 passes for 929 yards and 14 TDs as a junior, and 41 for 807 and 12 as a senior. Against Rutgers, it was like playing catch on Friday night again.
On the first 63-yarder, he used a move that he had perfected at Gorman, faking a curl and turning upfield. On the second, he caught a deep ball from Thorne over this shoulder, made a sudden stop that faked a Rutgers defender out of his cleats and other equipment, and sprinted across the field to the end zone.
After scoring his third TD on a flea-flicker during which he ran another double move, Nailor returned to the shadows in the second half — except when Kenneth Walker III, MSU’s Heisman Trophy candidate, broke free on a 94-yard TD run. Nailor used his speed to provide an escort, and the two spontaneously shook hands before crossing the goal line.
“It’s not something we correlated or anything like that,” Nailor bashfully told reporters.
But if Magic Johnson was still tuned in, he surely would have approved.
Kenneth Walker and Jalen Nailor dap up mid-touchdown. Iconic. pic.twitter.com/3po3pWR8g0
— Ian Kress (@ian_kress) October 9, 2021
Moving up the charts
Former Bishop Gorman star Jalen Nailor has 72 catches for 1,249 yards at Michigan State and is the 46th player in MSU history to reach 1,000 receiving yards.