July 23, 2014
By Brad Muller | More Features
It's not a surprise that former South Carolina wide receiver Alshon Jeffery is poised to be one of the biggest pass catching threats in the NFL in year three of his professional career following a break-out season last year with the Chicago Bears. It took only three years catching passes in a Gamecock uniform for Jeffery to insert himself all over the school record books, and that is a time of which he is still quite fond.
"I just miss the atmosphere and the crowd at South Carolina," Jeffery said upon his return to campus recently. "There's no crowd like a South Carolina crowd. I loved college, so there's not too much that I don't miss about it."
A top target for the Gamecocks from 2009-2011, Jeffery is South Carolina's career leader in receiving yards (3,042) and 100 yard receiving games (12), tied for first with Sidney Rice in career receiving touchdowns (23), and second overall in career catches (183) behind the late Kenny McKinley. As a sophomore in 2010, he set South Carolina's single season record for catches (88), receiving yards (1,517) and 100 yard receiving games (8). Those receivers, along with others, showcase a solid pipeline of wide outs taking their talents from Columbia to the next level.
While Jeffery came in with a tremendous amount of natural ability, he credits Gamecock co-offensive coordinator/wide receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. with helping to develop his game.
"He always told me to just compete," Jeffery said. "He told me to never give up on a route and to keep going and keep fighting. "The coaches helped me out a lot to get ready for the NFL. They helped put me in a position to make plays. They work with your strengths. Whatever you do best, they're going to take advantage of it."
Spurrier Jr. said his job was to get him to improve his releases, learn defenses and coverages, and simply get him to play to the best of his natural abilities.
"Every asset he had were things you can't coach," Spurrier Jr. said. "He was bigger than most people. He had stronger hands, and he was more physical. When he was double covered, he still made plays. When he wasn't sure what the coverage was, he still made plays."
After his record-setting career with the Gamecocks, Jeffery declared for the 2012 NFL draft and was selected in the second round by the Bears. After catching 24 balls and three touchdowns as a rookie, Jeffery was named to the Pro Bowl and honored as the Pro Football Writers Association's Most Improved Player last year after tallying 89 catches for 1,421 yards and seven touchdowns.
"It doesn't surprise me that he's doing so well," Spurrier Jr. said. "He's always been a hard worker. He always had the personality to be a successful player. He's not arrogant, and he's very humble."
Confidence and being on the same page with his quarterback is the biggest difference between year one and year two in the NFL for Jeffery. That adjustment was a little more difficult than going from a stellar high school player to a star in the Southeastern Conference.
"When I came into college it was about raw talent," Jeffery said. "In the NFL it's about technique, working hard and understanding the game."
Jeffery is just one of several of the school's all-time great receivers that Spurrier Jr. helped develop for NFL careers in the last few years. That list includes Rice, McKinley, Ace Sanders and more recently Bruce Ellington who was taken in fourth round of the 2014 NFL draft by San Francisco.
"It's great to see guys coming into the NFL each year," Jeffery said. "You take pride in that - going out there, catching balls, scoring touchdowns and knowing that the whole state is depending on us."
Finding players to replace those great wide receivers is a constant challenge, but their success certainly doesn't hurt others in trying to follow their path by coming to South Carolina and continuing to build on the unprecedented success of the football program.
The "Hail Mary" catch against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl and the three touchdown catches against Kentucky are among the many great memories of Jeffery's Gamecock career. His one-handed catch in the fourth quarter on a well-covered play in the win over number-one ranked Alabama still ranks among the most memorable for Spurrier Jr.
"I replay it and his release was bad, so I would give him a minus for that," Spurrier Jr. laughs. "His leverage is bad. So he gets a minus for that. We tell receivers to keep their arms up, and he can't get his left arm up because he's being held. He catches the ball with one hand and pushes the defender down with the other and runs down to the two yard line. We score two plays later to put the game away. There were three minuses on that play and he still made the play. Nobody else can do that."
Jeffery has plenty of great on-field memories from his time on campus, and he takes a lot of pride in seeing other successes from his alma mater.
"I have a lot of great memories," Jeffery said. "Winning the SEC East and watching the baseball team win the national championship were great. Even when I wasn't here, just watching the women's basketball team last year was something special too."
Proclaiming which of the South Carolina wide receivers who have come through the program in the last nine seasons was the best is a great conversation around the water cooler, but for the man who worked with him every day for three years on campus, there is no doubt.
"Alshon is the best receiver I've ever coached," Spurrier Jr. said. "And there have been a lot of really good ones. Certainly, size-wise and the ability to catch the ball, he was as good as anyone I've ever seen. Alshon is a pretty special and unique individual. Seeing what he's doing now in the NFL, yeah we probably should have thrown to him a little more."
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