Wendy Jeter didn’t look her best. She’ll admit to that.
The chemotherapy had gotten to her, and so had the summer heat. The last bits of her hair had fallen out. She didn’t have the strength to do much at all — let alone travel with her son around the Air Force Academy campus.
“I had just had chemo a couple of days before,” Wendy said. “I didn’t look really well when I left him at school that day. I think that just worked on him a little bit.”
Less than two months later, Colin Jeter left Air Force, returning to his Texas home to be close to his ill mother. He drove her to chemotherapy sessions, was there during her surgery and rushed her to doctors after her heart felt as if it would leap from her chest.
All of that is over now, more than two years behind the Jeters. Wendy Jeter’s cancer is gone. She’s living a healthy life watching Colin slowly develop into a primary weapon as a tight end for No. 8 LSU (2-0).
“My mom and I were just talking the other day about that,” Colin said. “It’s been a crazy road.”
The most recent stop: Baton Rouge, where the 6-foot-7, 244-pounder is fresh off a game in which he caught two passes, one for a touchdown. The catches are nice, but Jeter’s biggest presence over the past two games has been felt with his bruising blocks.
He uses those wide shoulders and muscular forearms to pave the way for a guy you may have heard of: Leonard Fournette. Fournette’s six scores and 387 yards through two games have thrust him into the Heisman Trophy chatter more than ever.
As the Tigers prepare for a trip to Syracuse (3-0) on Saturday, Fournette is the Heisman front-runner, according to at least one gambling site. Bovada.com has Fournette at 11-to-2 odds to win the trophy.
And Jeter? Well, he’s just a former junior-college player who’s here at LSU only because of his mother’s untimely illness.
Jeter thought he’d be at Air Force right about now, closing in on accomplishing his dream: becoming a fighter pilot.
Wendy was diagnosed with breast cancer two weeks before Colin graduated high school and about a month before he reported for basic training at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. She endured the first round of chemotherapy in May 2013 and traveled with Colin to Colorado a few weeks later.
The day she left her son at the academy is one Colin and Wendy won’t soon forget.
“It was a tough time,” Colin said. “When we went to Air Force, that’s probably the roughest I had seen her in my life. That was a tough day.”
Weeks later, he made the decision to transfer from Air Force to Kilgore College, a community college just 12 miles from the Jeters’ hometown of Longview, Texas.
“He came home because I was sick,” Wendy said. “You have to give him a lot of credit. I worried at that time that he’d given up his dream.”
Colin cared for his mother off the field. While on it, he was learning how to be more of a receiving tight end in Kilgore’s spread offense. It was new to him. He mostly run-blocked at Longview High, a program that runs a scheme similar to LSU.
“I-formation, run it down your throat,” he said. “Kilgore opened up the passing game to me.”
Things weren’t always easy. Wendy was his top priority. There were scary moments.
Colin had to rush her to doctors after chemotherapy had sent Wendy’s heart into a rage — one of the side effects of the treatment for some people. She remembers riding in the car with Colin driving that day.
“My heart got racing,” she said. “Chemo messed up my heart.”
She ditched chemotherapy and began radiation treatment instead. She underwent breast surgery as well. Colin waited in the hospital during the procedure and afterward took photos with the surgeon.
The doctor was a big fan of the hulking tight end from Longview High.
“And his daughter had a crush on Colin,” Wendy said. “He wanted to show her the photo.”
Wendy has been free of cancer since late 2013 — about six months before he visited LSU for a camp, was offered a scholarship and committed. The camp came a few days after LSU assistant Steve Ensmingerstumbled upon Jeter while recruiting in Texas.
Jeter just happened to be at his old high school when Ensminger stopped by. He was looking for a tight end. Jeter was working out in the weight room.
“It was weird how it worked out,” Jeter said.
In so many ways: the cancer, Air Force, Kilgore College and now LSU.
Ensminger had planned to redshirt Jeter during his first year last season. By Game 2, though, Jeter had 30 snaps. Coaches realized what a valuable weapon he is run-blocking — Jeter’s favorite part of the game.
“I like hitting people,” he said.
Coach Les Miles remembers seeing the same thing during that LSU camp in the summer of 2014, when dozens of tight ends competed in front of the staff.
“We looked at a number of guys, and Colin Jeter stood out,” Miles said. “Good ball skills. He’s a very good blocker.”
Jeter did both in Saturday’s 45-21 win over Auburn, flattening blockers ahead of Fournette and surprisingly catching two passes. He had no catches last year and was targeted just twice in 13 games.
In fact, LSU quarterbacks threw 19 passes to tight ends last season, with 12 catches. The Tigers have thrown to the tight end eight times in two games this year, with four catches.
On Saturday, Jeter caught a 14-yard pass in the second half and had that 1-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. He was targeted another time on a play across the middle. He took a hard hit on that play, the ball popped from his grasp. It knocked the breath out of him — his true awakening to SEC football.
“That’s the first hit I’ve had where I couldn’t immediately get up,” he said.
Jeter’s touchdown reception came on the same play call — a tight end delay — that LSU used to beat Ole Miss last season. Tight end Logan Stokes caught the 3-yard game-winner from Anthony Jennings with 5 minutes left.
Stokes is on campus this week, Jeter said.
“We’ve been talking a little trash about it,” he said. “He claims his was 2 yards deeper.”
A healthy Wendy Jeter was in the stands when Tiger Stadium burst into a roar as Brandon Harris hit Jeter on that third-and-goal play. Harris faked to Fournette, drawing in defenders and leaving her son wide open for, yes, a pass to the tight end — another unexpected turn on Colin Jeter’s winding road to Baton Rouge.
“That was amazing,” Wendy said. “I didn’t expect it, really. I didn’t think LSU threw to tight ends that much. He had told me they were going to pass more. I was like, ‘OK, I’ll wait and see if they’ll throw passes to y’all.’”
Follow Ross Dellenger on Twitter: @DellengerAdv.