Posted by ESPN.com’s Graham Watson
McKay Jacobson wanted to be the first player to the “Y.”
As a competitor, the sophomore receiver wanted to beat the rest of his teammates in the annual conditioning run that sends players up a mountain with a “Y” on it that overlooks campus. But Jacobson also needed some reassurance that the two years of rust he’d accumulated during his mission in Japan had finally worn off.
“I think just running up there the first day of camp really just showed all the hard work paying off,” Jacobson said. “It is a tough run up there to the Y. It’s pretty far up and the farther you get up there, the air gets thinner and thinner.”
Offensive coordinator Robert Anae called Jacobson’s trek up the mountain a gut check for the young receiver. Jacobson had struggled during the spring and had pushed himself so hard that he suffered a pulled hamstring and was limited in most practices. He put pressure on himself to be the player who, as a freshman in 2006, had 28 catches for 547 yards and three touchdowns. He also turned his first-ever punt return into a touchdown.
But two years later, he wasn’t that same player. He served his mission in Japan and found working out was a little bit different than the training he had done in America. He did well to stay in shape, but he hadn’t played much football since his time with the Cougars.
I had done what I could as far as on my mission and trying to stay in shape, but it’s a different thing working over there," Jacobson said. "It’s a different world there and it was like my body had taken a break the past two years.”
When Jacobson returned in January, he immediately heard comparisons to star receiver Austin Collie, who left after his junior season for the NFL. As BYU looked to fill the offensive void, Jacobson’s name often came up.
“Some people compare us just as a way to make things interesting, I guess,” Jacobson said.
Although Jacobson wasn’t trying to be Collie, he did want to be the player that showed flashes of being great during his one season with the program. So, Jacobson spent hours with strength and conditioning coach Jay Omer trying to get back in football shape. He acknowledged that he pushed too hard during the spring, but by the time the summer came, he developed a rapport with quarterback Max Hall and started to feel like his old self.
Being the first to the “Y” was a jumping-off point for Jacobson in what has started off as a pretty impressive year. In his first game back, he caught the game-winning touchdown against No. 3 Oklahoma. He finished the game, which was played just minutes from his hometown in Southlake, Texas, with four catches for 69 yards.
“It was one of those things where it honestly seemed like the ball was in the air for a lot longer than it was,” Jacobson said.
Jacobson followed that performance up with 79 yards and a touchdown against Tulane last week.
Saturday, he’ll make his home debut against Florida State.
“If I had any pressure, it was pressure on myself to just get back and play at as high a level as I could,” Jacobson said. “Being away from the game, I realized how important it was to me. At the same time, it’s still just a game, but you want to be the best you can and that’s kind of the mindset I have going in. Do the best I can do and hopefully help this team win.”