In his senior year at Destrehan High School, Jordan Jefferson led the Wildcats to a 15-0 record and a Class 5A state championship, and in the process he transformed himself into an out-of-nowhere, major-college prospect and an LSU commitment.
Before his senior year?
Jefferson spent his sophomore season sitting behind then-quarterback Jai Eugene, a future LSU signee recruited to play defensive back.
His junior year, Jefferson got Destrehan off to a 5-0 start as a first-time starter, but he suffered a broken wrist when John Ehret defensive lineman Drake Nevis clocked him in the sixth game and did not make another start the rest of the season.
Heading into his senior year as LSU’s quarterback, Jefferson hopes the strong finish at Destrehan was a prelude to his college career.
“I had the one year to make everything possible, and I did it all in my senior year,” Jefferson said. “That’s why I’m kind of not worried about the situation that I’m in. That year of high school, I had to do everything my senior year. So I plan to do the same thing this year.”
One last stand
If you went only by Jefferson’s bio in the LSU media guide, you’d think the 6-foot-5, 223-pounder has enjoyed one of the more celebrated careers by an LSU quarterback.
“Team leader with good command of the offense and possesses quick feet and a big arm. ... Can make all the throws or can tuck it under and run. ...”
You’ll learn that Jefferson, 20-7 as a starter, can surpass Tommy Hodson (31-14-1) for most wins by an LSU quarterback with 12 victories this season. You’ll find he already ranks sixth among LSU quarterbacks in career rushing yards and is tied with Bert Jones for ninth place in the school record books with 28 career touchdown passes.
But it’s not like Jefferson has nothing to prove.
His sophomore year, the Tigers ranked 112th nationally in total offense. His junior year, they ranked 86th in total offense and 107th in passing offense.
LSU rotated in Jarrett Lee last year after Jefferson went four games in a row with less than 100 yards passing, then signed junior-college star Zach Mettenberger to challenge for the starting job.
“I think my career, overall, has been great,” Jefferson said. “I have one more opportunity to go out with a bang.”
When he signed with LSU in 2008, Jefferson figured he’d spend two years learning from Ryan Perrilloux and have plenty of time to develop his young body. But Perrilloux was booted from the team that spring, leaving LSU’s offense in the hands of light-armed Harvard transfer Andrew Hatch and redshirt freshman Lee and vaulting Jefferson from a redshirt candidate to third in line.
Hatch suffered a broken leg against Georgia and Lee a high ankle sprain against Ole Miss. Jefferson, months removed from his 18th birthday, became the starter in LSU’s season finale at Arkansas.
Weeks later, in only his second career start, Jefferson starred in a rout of Georgia Tech in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and was named the game’s Offensive MVP.
But the next year, as the youngest quarterback to start an LSU opener in 64 years, Jefferson never matched the potential he showed as a freshman.
“I think just being an LSU football player is a lot of pressure on you; I can’t even imagine being the quarterback. In that stadium, there’s 92,000 people looking down at you and the pressure’s on all the time,” LSU center P.J. Lonergan said. “You have to learn. He never really had that chance to settle in when he was a freshman because he got thrown in there real young.”
Jefferson came on strong late in his junior year after hearing boos in a number of early home games. He led LSU to victories over Alabama and Ole Miss. He played the game of his life in a 41-24 rout of Texas A&M in the Cotton Bowl.
Still, his 2011 stat line included only seven touchdown passes with 10 interceptions.
Now, as a senior, he sits at the controls of an offense loaded with veteran linemen and playmakers, and takes snaps at practice against a defense brimming with talent and depth.
He could hold the key to a BCS championship.
“I think that he is relaxing. He’s enjoying the position that he has on this football team. He realized this is more his team,” LSU coach Les Miles said. “He is now enjoying being who he is in that role. I think he is confident in where he is and more relaxed. Nothing will happen on Saturdays that he hasn’t experienced before.”
Better late than never
Steve Robicheaux, Jefferson’s coach at Destrehan, calls playing Eugene at quarterback ahead of Jefferson in 2005 one of the biggest mistakes of his career in coaching.
The Wildcats still went 10-2 and reached the 5A quarterfinals behind a Eugene-led option offense, but Robicheaux said having the varsity-ready Jefferson on the field might have made Destrehan that much better.
As it happened, Jefferson had to wait until 2006 for his shot.
All was well until Nevis, the future LSU star, put his helmet into Jefferson’s throwing hand as the junior attempted a screen pass. The only time Jefferson played again the rest of the season was when he came off the bench in a playoff loss to Carencro.
Robicheaux said Jefferson’s lack of action kept him from entering his senior year as a touted college prospect.
“If he played his sophomore and junior years, I think he would have been recruited by just about everybody,” Robicheaux said.
Jefferson, who underwent two offseason surgeries to repair his broken wrist, knew he was short on time.
“I was going to (college) camps with a cast on my hand,” he recalled. “Just doing everything possible for me to get recruited.”
Jefferson impressed at the camps, but he said he hadn’t received a single scholarship offer when the 2007 season began.
That changed soon enough.
Jefferson threw for 2,846 yards and 24 touchdowns, with just three interceptions, as a senior, leading Destrehan to its first state title in 34 years and finishing his abbreviated prep career with a 21-0 mark in games he started. He received a scholarship offer from LSU the day after Destrehan’s second-round playoff game and committed on the spot.
“A few schools knew about me,” Jefferson said. “I received a lot of questionnaires and recruiting letters, but I didn’t really get a lot of attention until halfway through my senior year. I had to play half of my senior season before I really got noticed by anybody.”
The final chapter
LSU enters Jefferson’s senior year as a consensus top-five pick with 16 returning starters and an eye on hoisting the crystal BCS championship trophy for the third time.
More than any player, Jefferson has been the face of the program this summer.
He went through “the car wash” at ESPN in June making appearances on a laundry list of TV and radio shows in Bristol, Conn. He wowed the likes of NFL analyst Chris Mortensen when he joined college stars like Stanford’s Andrew Luck and Oklahoma’s Landry Jones at the Manning Passing Academy in Thibodaux. He traveled with Miles to Hoover, Ala., last month to make his second appearance at SEC Media Days in as many years.
All the while, coaches and teammates talked about all the strides Jefferson was making as a passer, a leader and a decision-maker.
“That just shows you right there I’m playing with a lot of confidence and really ready for the season and really ready to change the perception of me as a quarterback for my senior year,” Jefferson said.
Jefferson can look beyond his career at Destrehan for inspiration.
What would have been Rohan Davey’s legacy at LSU if he hadn’t led the Tigers to the SEC title as a senior? What would fans remember about Matt Flynn if he hadn’t engineered a BCS championship in his senior year?
Jefferson can join that company by moving beyond two rocky seasons as LSU’s quarterback and finally producing the kind of results that match his formidable skills.
The same way he went from unknown recruit to major-college commitment, Jefferson can transform himself into a legitimate NFL prospect in the space of one season.
The same way he led Destrehan to a perfect season, he can take this LSU team set up for success and steer it back to college football’s pinnacle.
The BCS championship game will be played Jan. 9 in the Louisiana Superdome, the same place Jefferson celebrated the closing act of his dash-to-the-finish high-school career.
He knows the road there well. He traveled it once before.
“Just talking to him this summer, I think he feels a lot more comfortable with the offense,” Robicheaux said. “I think he’s a lot more comfortable with the situation. I think he’s more confident than I’ve ever seen him. I think he’s a guy that is truly looking for a great senior year.”