Jha’Quan Jackson and Dalton Melancon battled together for the Hahnville Tigers, helping spur the Tigers to the Class 5A championship game in 2017. But on Saturday, they were on opposing sides.
Jackson, a wide receiver for Tulane, and Melancon, a place kicker for Southern Mississippi, saw their teams square off in the Armed Forces Bowl at Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. Jackson’s Green Wave took the victory on this day, 30-13, cementing Tulane’s record this season at 7-6. Southern Miss wrapped things up with a 7-6 record as well, as on the day the Wave turned around a rivalry historically dominated by the Golden Eagles, now 23-8 all time against their former Conference USA foe.
Both Jackson and Melancon are in the infancy of their collegiate careers, each a freshman at their respective schools. At Hahnville, both were instrumental in one of the most memorable postseason runs in school history and they helped lead the Tigers to a strong overall record in their time with the program.
“I looked up to him when we were coming up (at Hahnville),” said Jackson of Melancon. “He was a quarterback when I made the move there. This week we joked around as to who would win this week. At the end of the day, we won as a team.”
Melancon echoed his fellow Tigers alumnus.
“We talked a little friendly smack to each other throughout the week leading up to the game,” Melancon said with a laugh. “It was great to see him again and doing so well. Playing against an old teammate was fun.”
Jackson was pressed into duty as a quarterback in 2017, after showing promise at wide receiver in his freshman and sophomore seasons. His skills running the football meshed extremely well with superstar running back – and current Kansas Jayhawks star – Pooka Williams and a big, talented offensive line. Jackson’s athleticism made it difficult for teams to sell out on stopping Williams, and when his number was called, he indeed made teams pay: he rushed for 1,150 yards and 17 touchdowns while passing for six more scores.
Melancon, meanwhile, was critical in one of Hahnville head coach Nick Saltaformaggio’s most prioritized goals: winning field position. Melancon’s booming leg as a punter turned that battle in Hahnville’s favor numerous times, while his athleticism – he was also a quarterback with the Tigers – could help matters as well, perhaps most memorably when he converted on a fake punt by rushing for a first down in the Class 5A championship game in 2017. He’s a second generation collegiate athlete, as his father Keith was an offensive lineman for LSU during the 1990s.
The two were on the Hahnville team that put the Tigers back on the map in terms of the prep football hierarchy. HHS began the 2017 season 1-2 before surging to win 11 games in a row to reach the 5A championship game, including wins over archrival Destrehan – resulting in the District 7-5A championship – and a semifinal win at Acadiana, won on the game’s final play and representing then head coach Ted Davison’s lone career playoff loss at home.
Both Jackson and Melancon play for collegiate programs seemingly on their way up. Jackson’s Tulane team has posted consecutive winning seasons under head coach Willie Fritz, while Melancon’s Southern Miss squad returned to bowl action after no bowl participation in 2018.
“I’ve always dreamed of playing at the Division I level as my dad did,” Melancon said. “Being here at Southern Miss has fulfilled that dream of mine.”
Said Jackson, “Being a part of the Tulane program is special. Coach (Willie) Fritz and their staff don’t care if you’re a starter or not, they treat everyone as if they are. I’ve been learning the system … I worked hard to get on the field and played more than I expected this season, and it makes me want to keep going to earn that (larger) role next year.”