Before Jerry Day and the Top 10 West Monroe Rebels ever boasted an impressive 15-4 record on the court, Day was poised to have his breakout season on the gridiron.
Day was the most improved football player on the West Monroe roster heading into the 2019 season. That was reiterated multiple times in a sit-down interview with West Monroe head coach Jerry Arledge before the season.
And the preseason scrimmages certainly backed up that notion. With starting quarterback Garrett Kahmann returning, the senior quarterback-receiver combo proved to be a lethal one as Kahmann and Day connected on three touchdowns in a preseason scrimmage against Ouachita. Productive seasons for both were inevitable.
“This was hopefully going to be our year,” Kahmann said. “(Day) has been under recruited. He might not be the fastest or might not be 6’4”, but he goes up and gets the ball. Jerry is a dog. I want that guy on my team for sure.”
Unfortunately, not everything goes according to plan.
In the Bayou Jamb 2019 event, Kahmann took a hit from a Neville defender near the sideline that forced him to leave the game.
“I thought he was fine,” Day said. “He just popped up like everything was going to be alright.”
Kahmann’s shoulder injury eventually required season-ending surgery, thus West Monroe had to scramble and change its offense one week ahead of the season.
The Rebels went back to their roots, embracing a veer offense that’s accounted for several state titles through the decades. But with that change came sacrifice.
“It was really tough,” Day said. “I used to call Garrett and cry and say, ‘Man, I’m so frustrated.’ I didn’t know what to do because you only get one shot. Once that injury happened, everything went downhill for me.”
Day called college coaches who had shown an interest in him days before the season to tell them about the injury and how his role would change. After it was believed Day would get the ball multiple times a game, the reality was he became more of a blocker as the Rebels averaged just six passes per contest during the season.
“Some coaches didn’t like that,” Day said. “But some stayed with me. Arkansas (at) Monticello stayed with me the whole way and called me all the time.”
Through it all, the Rebels produced yet another impressive season. The Rebels went 11-2 and reached the quarterfinals before falling to Destrehan on the road. But that doesn’t mean it was all sunshine and rainbows for Day. During a 20-0 win against Ouachita on Oct. 25, Day’s mother, Lakiesha Jackson, suffered chest pains and had to be rushed to the hospital in an ambulance.
“I just remember rushing over there, and they were telling me she was doing good after having a stroke,” Day said. “She’s progressing now and doing a lot of things for herself. But that moment made me grow up. I have to open my eyes.”
Assistant coach Keldrick “Bub” King, who picks Day up for school every morning, delivered the news to Day after the game.
“She had some issues with that before but she really wanted to be there to watch him,” King said. “She was at every game when she really shouldn’t have been. The Ouachita game is when she got tired and had to go in the ambulance. I know how emotional (Day) is about his mom, so I didn’t want to tell him during the game. After the game finished, I told him she was fine and responsive, but he took off running after her.”
Jackson said she was released from the hospital that night and is still in recovery at home. Jackson, who fought hard to watch her son on the football field, has been unable to watch Day on the basketball court.
"I pushed myself to go watch him play football because I know how much that means to him," Jackson said. "I always told him to never give up and that God has something big in store for him."
Day said that entire process taught him how to have faith and believe in positive outcomes. He had no other choice but to mature.
And when he grew irritated by the circumstances, his mother was always there to offer encouragement. Along with the motherly advice he received, Day could always count on coaches and teammates to speak candidly with him. Kahmann was one of them. He explained if Day's visibly upset and frustrated by not getting the ball then he’s going to set a bad example for other players. Still, everyone understood why Day would be upset, as he had a potential breakout season stripped away in an instant.
“It has to be frustrating when you’re a receiver and we’re running the ball 40 times a game, but when we were rolling, he was blocking and doing what he needed to do in his new role,” King said.
And more often than not, the Rebels were rolling.
After West Monroe’s early playoff exit (by the Rebels standards), Day and other football players went right into basketball, where head coach Kyle Hill was returning a lot of talent. Because of that, Day, who led the team with 12 points per game in district a year ago, would undergo another role change. This one hasn’t bothered him as much…
“I’m used to scoring the ball, but now we have so many weapons that all I really have to do is play defense, and I like playing defense,” Day said.
Hill has tasked Day and Jalen White to guard opposing teams’ best players every single night. And while Day’s role has switched to more of a defensive one, it doesn’t mean he can’t go off for 18 points and hit a game-winning shot like he did against Neville earlier this season.
“I think the biggest thing for Jerry is he’s accepted the fact that we have a lot of guys who have gotten better,” Hill said. “And he just wants to win. We start everything with what we do defensively, and then it’s offense by committee. Whoever is hot and whoever is getting open looks. We go with the hot hand on offense.”
The formula has obviously worked. After taking two-of-three games in a highly competitive Allstate Sugar Bowl Prep Classic in New Orleans, the Rebels have reeled off three consecutive wins.
“The underclassmen we have can really score,” King said. “But the seniors, guys like (Dontrell) Cobbs and Jalen White and Jerry Day just grind. They’ve been playing for three years, and they bring a level of toughness to those younger guys. It’s like the other night. We had a (sophomore) Dakota Gasca go off in a game. And Jerry didn’t score a basket, but he was a big influence in that game because he kept telling Dakota to shoot it.”
Gasca’s five 3-pointers and 20 points came in a win against previously ranked No. 4 Alexandria. Baskets were hard to come by for Day, but as King alluded, Day found other ways to affect the outcome.
“I really wasn’t good that night, but I played defense,” Day said.
As the Rebels go deeper into district play, West Monroe will rely on both shot ability from the young guns and overall toughness from the vets. A matchup with No. 3 Ouachita is on the horizon, and as Hill has stated before, “To be the man you have to beat the man.” Day feels like he and his teammates can channel their inner Ric Flair as the biggest matchup of the season approaches.
“This will be the first time we play all year,” Day said. “Usually we’ve played by now. This is going to be fun.”
Winning district has Day’s full attention moving forward, especially after Day just committed to play football at the University of Arkansas at Monticello on Monday.
What better way to finish off a tumultuous senior year than by participating in a memorable West Monroe signing day and playing in meaningful playoff games in February?
That would make any mother proud, though it's hard for Jackson to admire her son anymore than she already does.
"My son is amazing," Jackson said. "I love my son."