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Rebel Nation: Advantage, Jefferson

Having a father who played Wide Receiver in the NFL was a big plus for Van Jefferson

Van Jefferson emerged from the womb with an advantage that many college wide receivers would never have.

He turned that into a successful debut season with Ole Miss and in doing so sets himself up as a guy who will climb high up the school’s career receiving charts if he stays healthy.
That’s the way it works when hungry young players start all 12 games and catch 49 balls as redshirt freshmen.
Before they reach the college level some players may say they learned a lot from Dad, but that really hits home for Jefferson.
His father, Shawn Jefferson, was an All-American wide receiver at Central Florida, played in the NFL and now coaches there. It was an ace in the hole that other players Van Jefferson’s age couldn’t claim.
Van Jefferson grew up in suburban Nashville as his dad coached with the Titans. Shawn Jefferson is wide receivers coach at Miami now.
“Learning from my dad, he taught me everything I know. Going into the season I just harped on what he told me and used it in the games,” Van Jefferson said.
The points didn’t come only from dad. As Van Jefferson hung around at NFL practices, he got to know many of those players. He watched their practice habits and work ethic.
Shawn Jefferson put his son’s sponge-like tendencies to good use. After those NFL practices, Van would get some one-on-one time with dad, and Shawn could see the impact of Van’s practice attendance.
“It’s amazing the stuff kids pick up by watching other guys do it. I would always tell Van to watch those guys and if he saw something he liked to put it in his back of tricks and pull it out and use it later.”
Those tricks helped Van Jefferson learn route-running discipline and find ways to gain separation off the line of scrimmage.
That led to consistency in practice, and Jefferson, having not set foot on a game-day college field, was able to unseat a returning junior starter in Markell Pack.
Jefferson shied away from depth chart talk before the season began.
“You know we don’t look at (the depth chart) that way. We are just two competitors. That’s one of my good friends. We go out and compete every day, so I don’t get into any of that. I just go out there and play,” he said.
The numbers, though, would go on to support coaches’ August conclusions – Jefferson finished the season as the team’s second-leading receiver behind tight end Evan Engram, who would go on to win the Conerly Trophy as the top college football player in Mississippi.
Jefferson had 49 catches for 543 yards and three touchdowns to wrap up his debut season.
Damore’ea Stringfellow had more total yards and yards per catch, but it was Jefferson who had the most catches of any wide receiver.
Laquon Treadwell was clearly the No. 1 target in 2015, a role that passed to Engram — who had 65 catches and narrowly missed 1,000 yards in 11 games – for 2016.
Using this season as a measuring stick both Jefferson and Stringfellow, different styles of receivers, looked comfortable in that role.
Down the stretch with Chad Kelly shelved by a torn ACL Jefferson seemed to work well with new starting quarterback Shea Patterson. Patterson went to Jefferson early in the Egg Bowl, and Jefferson would end the Mississippi State game with five catches for 47 yards.
“He’s the best route runner we have as far as getting in and out of breaks, and his hands are very, very steady,” Freeze said. “He’s got adequate speed to stretch the field, and in tight quarters, when he gets out of his break, his separation is as good as any I’ve coached here. That’s his gift.”
Jefferson stretched the field in College Station, and his 32-yard touchdown catch with 5 minutes, 17 seconds left drew the Rebels to within two points and put them in the positon to topple then-No. 10 Texas A&M on Gary Wunderlich’s 38-yard field goal with 37 seconds left.
While Jefferson has a solid season of starting experience under his belt he’s still relatively young and sets up for a nice future with Patterson. Since Jefferson redshirted in 2015 both will be sophomores in 2017.
Jefferson had 154 catches totaling more than 2,400 yards in his last two years at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood. He and DaMarkus Lodge were ranked among the top 15 wide receivers in the country when they both signed with Ole Miss in the 2015 class. Lodge did not redshirt but played just a little. The redshirt season admittedly left Jefferson “pretty upset,” but he soon began to see its benefits.
“I talked to my mom and dad. My mom was telling me to be patient, that ‘this is God’s plan for you. Just wait for it.’ That’s what I did, and now it’s all working for the better.”
While he quickly earned the trust of coaches and quarterbacks, Jefferson isn’t the only youthful wide receiver.
Quincy Adeboyejo was the only senior wide receiver on the roster for 2016.
In addition to Stringfellow, who has one year of eligibility remaining, freshman A.J. Brown began to emerge at the end of the season as he became the Rebels’ best yards-after-contact receiver.
DK Metcalf had already established himself as the Rebels’ No. 1 end zone target when he was injured in the second game. He is expected to regain the year of eligibility and be a freshman again in 2017.
The sudden end of the season for Kelly left Jefferson and all the receivers in a bit of transition mode as they learned to catch balls from Patterson.
They’d had some contact with Patterson but not as much. There was a time of adjustment. It was an obvious problem that had not sorted out by the end of the Egg Bowl, but it’s one that doesn’t concern Freeze much either. He believes time and practice reps will produce the same chemistry between Patterson and the receivers as Kelly had with the group.
“He has a lot of zip on the ball. He throws it very well. That’s just timing and us getting work together. We’ve just got to catch it. That’s the main job,” Jefferson said.
Another big adjustment for receivers has been the idea of continuing to work to get open when a play breaks down.
While Kelly’s tendency once he started to leave the pocket was to fully commit to the run, Patterson is more likely to throw.
There was no clearer example of that than Patterson’s first touchdown pass. He ran right, met a Texas A&M defender face to face, reversed his field and found Stringfellow wide open in the end zone.
“They’re both different, but She did a great job. When he gets out of the pocket, he likes to throw. That means the receivers have to run around with him and get open so he can see us down the field. There are things we have to know and work around on his scrambles. For the most part, he’s been doing a great job. We trust him.”


By: Parrish Alford a contributor from the Daily Journal
In the January / Feburary issue of Rebel Nation Magazine
Photos by Greg Pevey
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