MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Some guys just stick out as freshmen the first time you see them. Whether it’s wide eyes or a general naivete that can only be conquered by experience the first time away from home, their demeanor makes it obvious they haven’t done this before.
When he arrived at West Virginia, defensive tackle Jordan Jefferson was one of those guys, and understandably so. On top of being a long way from his home in the Florida Panhandle, Jefferson is the youngest player on the Mountaineers roster at 17 years old.
“Physically, he’s just as big and strong as anybody on this team,” senior defensive end Reese Donahue said of the 6-foot-2, 295-pound Jefferson. “But from a speed and knowledge of the game aspect, I would say it was obvious he was new.
“All freshmen are a little bit lost on campus. They don’t know how college football works with meetings and all of this. In high school, football is part of your life. Football when you’re here consumes everything you do.”
It hasn’t taken long for Jefferson to catch on. The true freshman worked his way into the starting lineup against North Carolina State, only needing two games to earn that status. The feat is even more impressive when one takes into account that fellow tackle Darius Stills has arguably been the most disruptive player on West Virginia’s defense this season.
“As a coach you would prefer to be a little bit older, but we’ve got to play the best guys,” said West Virginia coach Neal Brown. “Our young people have shown they are ready to play. Jordan Jefferson is a great example of that. He started the game and played really well. Those young guys, the more the play, the better they’ll get.”
For Brown, there has to be an extra bit of satisfaction in seeing Jefferson succeed so soon. He and defensive line coach Jordan Lesley began recruiting Jefferson when they were still at Troy. Jefferson was the first high school player recruited by the new WVU coaching staff for February’s signing day.
Though Jefferson’s breakthrough is welcome, expect Stills to continue getting the lion’s share of snaps inside. Jefferson is being groomed with future production in mind.
“We’ve got to be careful with his reps,” Brown said. “It’s almost like a pitch-count. We’re keeping him in a rep-count.”
Jefferson only has one tackle so far, but Donahue says that number is going to pile up by a large margin.
“The improvement he’s made has been substantial,” Donahue said. “If he continues to improve like this, you guys are going to have a special player on your hands.
“Y’all need to keep an eye on him. I’m not only excited to see how he develops the rest of the season, but I’m excited to see how he turns out in four years.”