BATON ROUGE, La. — Something about LSU wide receiver Justin Jefferson didn’t look right.
Not as a football player, mind you. He’s been one of the stars of the 2018 spring for LSU, lining up as one of the Tigers’ three starting receivers for most of the spring session. But just in a general sense. Something wasn’t right. It was weird watching a wide receiver running routes with No. 32 emblazoned across his chest.
“I couldn’t,” Jefferson said laughing when asked about his jersey number. “I couldn’t keep No. 32. That just wasn’t me. It wasn’t a receiver number. It didn’t look very good on me. Everybody thought it looked good on me because they’d only seen me in 32, but I couldn’t do it this year.”
The sophomore made the executive decision to switch to No. 85 this spring. Far more appropriate for a wide receiver. Definitely more befitting of the player who caught 4 passes for 54 yards in LSU’s second scrimmage of the spring and is pushing for starting reps as an outside receiver and a slot receiver.
Therein lies the dual nature of Jefferson’s effort this spring. Since arriving at LSU last summer, Jefferson has had more than a few identities. None of them have anything to do with his strengths as a football player.
First, he was just another Jefferson brother. Like his older brothers Jordan and Rickey before him, Justin Jefferson made his way from Destrehan, La., to Baton Rouge to play football at LSU. As Jefferson says, he’s been in and around Baton Rouge for a long time. His oldest brother Jordan, an LSU quarterback from 2008-11, enrolled at LSU more than a decade ago.
But as the 2017 season progressed, Jefferson became less of a legacy and more of a scheme product. He was a jet sweep guy. Jefferson played in 6 games as a freshman, catching no passes and carrying the ball 1 time for 4 yards. In former offensive coordinator Matt Canada’s offense, Jefferson was a motioner, someone who tired himself out running back and forth across the formation.
“I mean, it was OK,” Jefferson said about running jet sweeps. “I didn’t complain about it.”
With Canada gone and legendary receivers coach Jerry Sullivan taking over as LSU’s passing game coordinator, Jefferson is more than a glorified running back. Teammate Jonathan Giles, who enrolled at LSU around the same time as Jefferson, marveled at how far he’s seen the youngster come in his year in Baton Rouge.
“He’s done a great job,” Giles said. “That’s my son right there. That’s my little son. He’s been working his butt off. When he first got here he had to gain a little weight. I think he was 160 or 170. Now he’s around 180 or 188, which is good. Then on the field, he’s doing everything he’s supposed to do. He’s making plays. He’s making runs after the catch. He’s exciting to watch too. I can’t wait to get on the field with him.”
As for what role Jefferson will be playing? He’s versatile enough to play any receiver position. And he will. Jefferson has worked on the outside as a sideline receiver and up the middle as a slot, tactically rotating between roles. The more he knows how to do, after all, the better chance he has to get on the field.
And if he’s on the field, he can help the team.
“Really I’m just trying to be the guy that makes the plays that they can depend on to go to,” he said. “And just execute my position and do what I have to do.”