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A `LITTLE GROWING UP’ PUTS JACOBS INTO AGS’ KEY LEADERSHIP ROLE

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It's like this, says Joe Jacobs: "Everyone is different. I mean, hell. Some people have to learn harder lessons."

Utah State's standout defensive tackle, one of 17 seniors playing their final game in Romney Stadium Saturday, doesn't regret that he's one of those who had harder lessons to learn."I liked myself then, and I like myself now," says Jacobs. The trials of his younger years at Utah State were "just one of the things you have to go through. I take everything in stride, and it's nothing to worry about."

Now, Jacobs' worries center around helping USU win all its remaining games, which could gain the Aggies a tie for the Big West Conference title and maybe the Las Vegas Bowl.

He's done his share. He's the current Big West Defensive Player of the Week for his work at Cal State-Fullerton Saturday: 10 tackles, nine solo, a sack, two fumble recoveries, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry. He was also BWC POW for the Fullerton game in 1991. "Their offensive line splits are pretty big," Jacobs says modestly. "My job was to go at the fullback. They gave the ball a lot to him, and he fumbled."

Jacobs came on especially strong late in the Oct. 24 San Jose State game to help USU nearly upset the league favorite, getting a sack, two minus-yard tackles and nine tackles overall.

For '92, he's tied with linebacker Jermaine Younger for pass sacks second in solo tackles , third in tackles for loss and fourth on the team in total tackles . In a defense in which linebackers make the tackles, that's impressive. The NFL is watching.

Jacobs credits a summer-long team conditioning program run by Milt White for improving his stamina and consistency, keeping him in games for every play, strong till the end.

"He can go all day long," marvels coach Charlie Weatherbie.

Weatherbie is even more delighted with Jacobs' leadership. When Weatherbie joined USU, he spoke to Jacobs, Younger and some others about being leaders.

That's something Jacobs says has been missing since Brent Snyder (1988). "After that, it deteriorated; everybody was out for themselves," Jacobs says.

When Weatherbie brought up the subject, it seemed foreign. "I wasn't used to it - nobody was," says Jacobs.

But those asked quickly warmed to the idea. "He's matured as a leader - just unbelievable," Weatherbie says.

"It's just taking extra steps, slapping people on the butts," says Jacobs. "The freshmen get down and want to go back home, and it's getting them on the right road. You show them hard work and dedication can do something."

When Jacobs first came to USU, "I thought I could have been a leader, but with me getting in trouble, it was like spinning your wheels. You can't get in trouble and be a leader," he says.

Jacobs and friends sometimes had too good a time, got rowdy, got challenged and got into fights. As a freshman and sophomore, "I was running around Logan like a chicken with my head cut off, like crazy man," he says. He and another player were arrested for a fight. Jacobs' parents, who will be here Saturday, supported him. And former coach Chuck Shelton stuck by him. "He gave me several chances," says Jacobs, allowing that Shelton could have gassed him. "It's really dawned on me I could have been out almost from my first day. I owe a lot to Coach Shelton," he says.

His family, Shelton and the inside of a jail cell convinced him. "That's how I learned," says Jacobs, who is to graduate in the spring and, if the NFL doesn't intervene, plans to fulfill a lifelong dream and go into police work.

"It happened," he says. "I'm not regretting it. Stupid. Immature."

Unpopular.

"The year after the fight and the next year," he says, "when I approached people, they didn't want to talk to me. It took awhile to clean up my image. I just grew up. Everybody has to grow up," Jacobs says.

Last season, he made a big impression on the field, making second-team All-Big West with several big games and a few so-so efforts. With conditioning, better health and enthusiasm, they've nearly all been big games in '92.

Now the fifth-year senior awaits his final home game. "I can't believe it's already here. It seems just like the other night I was playing high school football," Jacobs says. He's not sentimental. "I guarantee I'll miss it," he says, "but there are things afterward - and I'll have my degree."

The legacy he'd like to leave is not so much about how he turned himself around or became a football force but that, "I'd like people to think of me as a very funny guy. I can be serious when it comes time to take care of business," but, "I like to joke around and make people laugh," Jacobs says.

*****

(Additional information)

Full circle\

When he was in high school at Benicia, Calif., Joe Jacobs committed to go to UNLV, but USU coach Chuck Shelton and assistants Stan Eggen and Pat Behrns visited him on the last recruiting weekend and offered a scholarship. He told them he'd committed, but Shelton asked him to make the recruiting trip anyway.

He was treated well and liked the possibilities for hunting, fishing and snowmobiling and signed up.

Now, ironically, the fifth-year senior's last home game is against UNLV, where Behrns and Eggen are assistants.

Shelton left USU for University of the Pacific in Stockton, 50 miles from Jacobs' home. Shelton's Tigers will be the last opponent of Jacobs' career, unless USU makes the Las Vegas Bowl. - Linda Hamilton