Staff Sergeant Donald Pierson Sr. was conducting a routine artillery demonstration at Camp Maxey, a Texas Army National Guard training facility just over two hours east of Dallas-Fort Worth.
For Sergeant Pierson this should’ve been an ordinary, routine training exercise. But that’s when the Texas winds began to change things.
A freak rain storm began to blow over the skies. Rushing to take cover, Sergeant Pierson and the rest of the group worked together pitching tents over their artillery and themselves.
Pierson who had proudly served for 29 years in the US military, first as a Marine on tour in Vietnam and as a member of the Army reserves, arrived at this fateful day with no shortage of adversity.
The crew hurried their pace amid the downpour. Their only problem—so did the storm.
That was the day the heavens touched down upon Camp Maxey. Sergeant Donald Pierson Sr. was struck by lightning.
“As the story goes,” recalls SDSU quarterback Jalen Mayden, “my grandfather put his hand on a pole when it was raining, lightening struck the pole and it went down and got him as well. He was good though … That happened before I was born so that’s the story that I heard.“
Mayden, the Aztecs senior quarterback out of Rowlett, Texas may have played it cool when describing this story on the most recent Sons of Montezuma Podcast episode #127.
“Oh no it definitely hit and threw him,” Mayden’s mother Katrina Jones confirms the story about her father Donald Pierson Sr. with much more flair for the dramatics. She was witness to the emergency aftermath that ensued. “I remember the doctors gave him 24 hours to live. Which then turned to 72 and then you realize, it’s the end of the week.”
Drafted to the Marines and re-enlisting in the national guard—after the recovery of being struck at Fort Maxey, Donald Pierson Sr. was eventually celebrated as the first veteran honored in the city of Rowlett, Texas. That was one event that a young Jalen was witness to.
“It was a miracle how one day turned into a week and then into a month. Next he began the journey of learning to walk and talk again.” Katrina recounted.
Though Sergeant Pierson survived that day, the effects of the lightning strike unfortunately led to future ailments in Donald’s life. From diabetes to kidney failure, he lost much of his short term memory at first, but recovered most of it back. Aging as a part of life is something Jalen and his siblings had an up close experience with.
“Jalen basically grew up always around his grandfather and in many ways being responsible for him in his elder years.” Katrina shared with Sons of Montezuma.
“The drill sergeant was so proud of his grandkids. He believed in duty, excellence, and have a good time while you’re doing it—he was something else.” Katrina says with a fondness in her voice while reminiscing over her late father.
Have a good time.
Three traits one could easily see have adhered to Jalen’s persona from his grandfather while he has experienced his time on college football’s many stages.
Jalen Mayden burst onto the college football scene in San Diego last season. Having started the off-season making the switch to the safety position from a quarterback, Jalen was resigned to taking snaps on defense and learning the nuances of a position that was foreign to him.
Injuries as well as roster and coaching changes left the SDSU quarterback room decimated and the Aztecs in jeopardy of a lost season and a lost team.
But Jalen was not lost.
At least to himself and the defense.
Moose Mayden was busy at work fulfilling his duty. All Summer long looking for defensive backfield drills, he had been face-timing his brother Jared who played the cornerback position at Alabama.
During SDSU’s fall camp it was teammates Cedarious Barfield and Vai Kaho among others who really helped him out and learn the schemes.
“I fell in love with playing safety,” recalls Mayden. “It’s just the culture they have over there and how you get treated. It’s not really about everything else around football. It’s did you make the play when the play was coming to you or not. That’s all they care about.“
When his quarterback opportunity appeared lost, Jalen’s postitive attitude of accepting the position change spoke volumes to the role of duty in his life. His duty to his team and to the coaches.
“I can finally say that I understand, going on a fifteen play drive, stopping the opponent on the goal line and then the offense goes 3 and out and then we’re back out on the field.” says Mayden relating to the frustration a struggling offense can put on a team’s defense.
But just as he had gotten comfortable making plays on defense duty called again. Jalen was thrust back into the offense to see what he could do for a team without a veteran presence behind center.
In week 6 he immediately helped lead SDSU over Hawaii with 322 passing yards that were the most by an Aztec quarterback in their starting debut since current QB coach Ryan Lindley did so back in 2008.
Since he moved to the QB1 position for that game against Hawaii, Mayden ranks 3rd in the Nation in yards per completion, 14th in yards per attempt, 17th in passing yards per game, and 25th in total passing yards.
By the end of the year he guided the Aztecs to 5 victories in their final 8 games—including a Hawaii Bowl appearance and was also the recipient of the team’s offensive player of the year award. Another first not achieved by a QB since current Minnesota Vikings head coach Kevin O’Connell did so in 2007.
With his physical play-making ability and cool under pressure, Jalen has earned the admiration of Aztec fans far & wide. But it was his team first attitude and dedicated excellence in his work ethic that earned the respect from his teammates and coaches.
After transferring in from Mississippi State a year earlier (2021) due to coaching changes and what is regarded these days as “Coach Prime treatment”, the new staff in Starkville, Mississippi had different ideas for their quarterback room. Mayden was kindly told that he should start looking elsewhere for a new school.
“As a transfer it’s not easy coming into any program, but this program specifically because of how hard we work here,” Mayden speaks on behalf of the SDSU coaching staff. “They really make sure they get every bit out of you and you’ve got to buy in.“
Mayden was brought in by former offensive coordinator Jeff Hecklinski with a purpose in mind. But to say the offense was really tailored to what he did best—not so much. The adjustment and hard work continued even more so with the sudden arrival of new quarterbacks coach and now offensive coordinator Ryan Lindley.
“I had never taken snaps under center before—I had never had to hold a snap count & try to draw someone off-sides. So it was all new to me.“
Mayden remembers his first time taking the snap from center and having to drop back several steps to then throw down field. He admittedly didn’t see anyone in the play and instead focused his eyes on his offensive line in front of him. Something his offensive coaches alerted him he would improve on in time.
In fact, it has been his excellence in the pocket that has jumped of the screen so much for Jalen.
Making those quick decisions, holding the ball and being able to see & trust with your eyes and feet—Jalen attributes his poise in the pocket to always being blessed with four years of great receivers in high school. Some in the NFL now like Devin Duvernay of the Baltimore Ravens among others all in D1 programs.
To be able to let them work and knew that they were going to win … it just translated … along with a lot of the drills at Mississippi State were to stay in the pocket to let the receivers work.
HAVE A GOOD TIME
“I hate losing more than I like winning,” explains Mayden. “I’m not going to go out there and make a fool of myself. If I’m going to do this I’m going to fully prepare for it.”
Wether it was refining his game at the QB position or taking on the challenge of learning a defensive position, Jalen continued to work hard with excellence. Now with Coach Hoke and Coach Lindley’s full trust in his abilities, he’s put in a full off season dedicated as the QB1.
“His (Coach Lindley’s) trust in me that first week from the baseline when we first met, I kind of had a comfortability with him. But it’s grown since then. At first I was like who is this guy, how does he know me, how does he have this much trust in me.“
Though Coach Lindley wasn’t on staff at Mississippi State when Jalen was there, the two having similar paths allowed Lindley to get some views of his abilities with greater insight than most.
“Obviously he saw something inside of me that I didn’t see in myself. The fact that he brought me from the defense from something he had seen years ago.”
It’s a sense of belief & positive spirit that is shared by Jalen’s family as well.
Katrina recalls her father as the stern, military man of the family. But always the Minister of music also. Sergeant Pierson was the musical director, playing gospel piano faithfully in church on Sunday mornings.
That expression of joy, faith, and love was a big influence that Jalen and his siblings witnessed in their lives.
Jalen is very musical thanks to that influence. It was during his grandfathers illness that he picked up the piano in his absence of playing at the church.
This SDSU football season holds a lot of weight up on the Montezuma Mesa. Despite the program’s record amount of wins in 2021, football has failed to win the Mountain West championship since it’s back to back seasons of 2015 & 2016. A far cry from last season’s less than stellar perception of Snapdragon Stadium, that was exacerbated by the inconsistent play on the field.
The Jalen Mayden story of a quarterback–turned safety–back to quarterback, truly was the boost needed to salvage the season and give some hope for this upcoming year.
But a strong year is needed to sustain a program hoping to solidify a new offensive identity moving forward. Add in the recent uncertainty of a power conference expansion invite materializing and you began to see the shine fade a bit on the prospects of a successful season.
But not for Moose Mayden. To get to this point through all the missed opportunities and changes, Mayden has continued to have a good time through it all. And coming into this season, the Moose is feeling extra good.
“At first I just felt like a safety that came back to play quarterback. Now, I can finally release that little part of my life that I went through. It became less of I’m just a guy filling in and more of, I’m gonna be that guy and I am the guy.“
“That’s more of my mentality … to—this is my job and now we’ve got to stack these wins on each other. Now just all the stuff that i have worked on, all the stuff Coach Lindley has put in my ear that I need to work on. Not that I’m a completely different quarterback, but a more polished quarterback than I was last year.“
This kind of positivity is passed down from Jalen’s grandmother Alberta Pierson calls the ‘Moose Spirit’. It’s through her words of encouragement, on a laminated graphic sheet last season, that she let us know how much the family believes not just in Jalen—but in all the team.
Fore more on #18 Moose Mayden, listen to our full interview with the Aztecs quarterback on the latest Sons of Montezuma Podcast. Don’t forget to support him directly in our NIL Shop!