GAINESVILLE, Fla. — As Florida wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales rattled off the names of the players who have impressed him so far this spring, Van Jefferson was at the top of the list.
“He’s making plays right now. One-on-ones, he’s getting matchups, he’s running by defensive backs, he understands a little bit more, probably. He’s got a little bit more experience,” Gonzales said Tuesday.
It’s not just the coaches Jefferson, the high-profile Ole Miss transfer, is impressing either.
He added to his spring highlight reel Thursday afternoon, catching a couple long passes from quarterback Kyle Trask during the portion of practice open to reporters, and afterward his teammates were also raving about the new big name in the WR group.
“Real nice, real smooth. There’s some things that he can do, I sit back and I watch how he does it, you know what I’m saying?” junior Freddie Swain said. “I take a little piece of whatever he did, I try to implement that in my game.”
Said sophomore Kadarius Toney: “He’s a great player, he’s a great player. I look up to him really. Even though he just got here, I really look up to him because I like the way he runs his routes, the way he separates and stuff like that. He’s just overall a great player. Be looking forward to him this season.”
That’s good advice, indeed — assuming Jefferson is cleared to play, that is.
That is the caveat that comes with every big catch and impressive performance from Jefferson this spring.
He and other former Ole Miss teammates — including quarterback Shea Patterson, who transferred to Michigan — are petitioning the NCAA to waive the rule that requires players to sit out a season after transferring within the FBS level.
Their case is the unusual circumstances surrounding former Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze’s sudden ouster prior to last season amid eventual NCAA sanctions.
But there remains no timeline for when such a decision will come from the NCAA.
“We’ll just file everything, file everything with the NCAA and let them go through their steps and their process and just cooperate with them in whatever they need to make that decision,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said Wednesday. “In any of those things that I’ve dealt with in the past with the NCAA I never try to guess. I never try to put a timeline on it. Some days you’ll get an answer back within a day or two and some days it’s extended a long time. I’ve seen every different scenario so I just don’t even try to guess.”
Jefferson said he has not yet submitted the official petition to the NCAA.
“I have not turned it in yet. I need to. We’re going to talk to compliance and everything like that and get those things done and we’ll go from there,” he said after practice Thursday. “I think Shea submitted his already. I think Shea did already. I talk to Shea all the time and we talk about it and everything like that. We’re hopeful that it goes our way and everything like that, but we’ll see.”
Understandably, Jefferson didn’t want to offer many more details about what his pitch to the NCAA will be.
“I guess it’s everything that’s going down over there. We’ll see what happens and everything like that, but I don’t want to get too much in it because you don’t want to give everything away,” he said. “But we’ll see what happens with that.”
He’s hoping, the Gators are hoping and the more Florida fans get glimpses of Jefferson’s potential impact, they should really be hoping he is cleared to play in 2018.
Jefferson totaled 91 catches for 999 yards and 4 touchdowns over two seasons at Ole Miss. His 42 catches for 456 yards last season are more than any other receiver on Florida’s current roster.
And, again, he’s passing the eye test with each productive practice.
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) March 22, 2018
— Ryan Young (@RyanYoungSEC) March 22, 2018
“At Ole Miss we ran a lot of deep balls. I’m kind of familiar with that. Just coming here, I never played outside much, I was more of a slot guy at Ole Miss. The transition from that is different, but my dad taught we well. I’m getting the hang of it,” he said.
Jefferson is the son of former NFL wide receiver Shawn Jefferson, who totaled more than 7,000 receiving yards from 1991 to 2003 with the San Diego Chargers, New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions. He’s presently the wide receivers coach for the Miami Dolphins.
Like his father, the younger Jefferson is from Jacksonville, and when he decided he wanted to transfer from Ole Miss, Florida was a logical destination for him. He also visited Michigan and Louisville and had his options, though.
“I had a lot of schools that hit me up when I came out. I took a visit to Michigan, I took a visit to Louisville, but when I came down here it was just different,” he said. “Of course, Michigan is a great school, Louisville is a great school too, but there was just something about Florida, Coach Gonzales and Coach Mullen when I came here that really interested me. So when they hit me up, I just took the visit and felt like this was the place for me.”
While Jefferson was plenty productive at Ole Miss, he was part of a crowded wide receiver group and was a secondary option to star A.J. Brown, who had 75 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns last year. Jefferson finished fourth on the team in receiving yards behind Brown, DeMarkus Lodge (41 catches for 698 yards and 7 touchdowns) and D.K. Metcalf (39-646-7) while those guys dominated the red zone targets.
Will Hester, Jefferson’s coach at Ravenwood High School in Brentwood, Tenn., told SEC Country when the WR transferred a few months ago that Jefferson always felt he could do more than his opportunities allowed at Ole Miss.
And the wideout reiterated that Thursday while also speaking appreciatively of his time in Oxford, Miss.
“I just want to come here and really just showcase what I have,” Jefferson said. “I showcased what I had at Ole Miss a little, but I feel like I can do a little more. Ole Miss is a great place, don’t get it [mis]understood. Coach [Matt] Luke is a great guy. Coach [Jacob] Peeler and those guys, they’re great. So I’ll never say anything bad about those guys. I just had to do something for me, make a decision for myself and that was pretty much it.”
Intent on earning a big role in Mullen’s spread offense and being a part of the offensive turnaround Florida fans are hoping for, Jefferson is off to a strong start.
“He’s very conscientious of wanting to do the little things,” Gonzales said. “It’s very important to him if he has a [missed assignment], or if he dropped the ball or if he didn’t do it right. He wants to be really, really, good, so I love his attitude. I absolutely love his attitude, ready to come to work every day.”
Watching him glide down the practice field and haul in one long catch after another, yeah, it would be easy to see Jefferson as a focal point of the Gators’ passing game this fall.
If the NCAA gives him the chance, that is.
“We’ll see what happens,” Jefferson said. “That’s all in God’s hands. I’m hoping it goes my way.”