VALDOSTA — Joe Fortson has all the physical attributed a wide receiver could ask for.

At 6-foot-6 and 215 pounds with more than enough speed, the Valdosta State junior provides a large target, who provides a physical toughness after the catch, as well as being able to gain separation. 

And after the Blazers' coaching staff shuffled a few players to different receiver positions a week ago, Fortson showed just what he could all do with a bigger opportunity, hauling in two touchdowns in VSU's closer-than-expected 42-41 win at Mississippi College on Saturday.

"His size, his speed, those are just some good qualities he has out there at receiver," VSU receivers coach Jake Grande said. "He's got a great knack for going up and finding the ball when it's in the air and hopefully he can keep doing that. And if the coverage allows him to be in the situation where Roland (Rivers III) or (Adam) Robles thinks it's a great opportunity, they look his way and he goes up and makes the play like he did Saturday."

Perhaps no play was bigger than Fortson's 20-yard touchdown catch from Rivers with 19 seconds left in the first half to provide a lead and some momentum for the Blazers.

"Joe stepped up, he played big out there on the outside," Rivers said. "He had been in the slot, and he has a big body, a big frame, he's aggressive, so we like him out there. 

"He has the potential to make a lot of plays for us."

Midway through the third he made another one. After the Choctaws had tied the game at 21, Fortson hauled in another Rivers pass — he had a team-high six catches — showed his strength and toughness, taking a big hit from a pair of Mississippi College defenders before shaking them off and finishing off a 17-yard touchdown. 

It wasn't the first time he showed off his strength for the Blazers, either. Two weeks earlier in the Okefenokee Classic in Waycross, Fortson caught a Robles pass and knocked a Kentucky State defender's helmet off with a stiff-arm as part of a four-catch day that included a score as well, one that showed off just how beneficial his size can be.

Late in the Blazers' 48-10 rout of the Thorobreds, Fortson climbed the ladder in the back of the end zone to haul in a 34-yard Rivers pass for a touchdown, leaving a pair of KSU defenders below.

"A lot more margin for error," Rivers said of throwing to a 6-6 target. "You can throw it high and he can go up and get it. Quarterbacks love that. But all of our receivers do a great job of getting open they make our job easier.

"It was just a matter of time for him learning the system, getting in and getting comfortable. That size, that potential, the ability that he has, he can be a great receiver. 

"If he can lock in and really focus in, he can be great here."

Which is why the VSU coaches moved him to the outside from the slot, where Damien Strange was entrenched as a starter, and playmaker. Fortson had the physical attributes, but also the mentality, they felt, to excel with more space.

"We felt like we had to find another guy with an attitude out there on the outside that could make plays," Bell said. "Joe kind of has that confident attitude, plus he's gifted physically. 

"That X receiver position is a guy where you have to win. Sometimes if you get a 3 by 1 set and he's over there by himself and they're going to man you up, we have to have a guy who is going to win. Xay (Howard)'s good at it but we need another guy that is physically gifted who goes out there with the mentality that you can't cover me. 

"Joe has that and I think it's going to make us a better team."

For one week, it definitely did.

"I think he just went out there with the mindset to attack the ball," Grande said. "I think he's done that pretty much the whole season, this time he got the ball, a few opportunities in coverage and he went up and made plays.

"We were just trying to maximize our size and our speed. So we moved him out there and he's really taken to it. He's really worked hard and hopefully he can continue to just keep getting better out there as the season moves forward."

To Fortson, who now has 17 catches for 205 yards and three touchdowns, the best move was whatever the Blazers needed.

"I'm just looking forward to whatever will help the team win," he said. "If coach Bell feels that me going to the outside is going to help the team, then that's what I'm going to do."

Jamie Wachter is the sports editor of the Valdosta Daily Times and can be followed on Twitter @jlwachter.

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