Morris: Jeffery proves he is quite a catch

October 11, 2009 

South Carolina freshman wide receiver No. 1 Alshon Jeffery celebrates his second touchdwon with teammates in the second quarter during the Gamecocks game against Kentucky at Williams-Brice Stadium, Saturday 10, 2009.

GERRY MELENDEZ/GMELENDEZ@THESTATE.COM — The State Media Company

STEVE SPURRIER WAS getting antsy. He paced in his office at Williams-Brice Stadium this past Feb. 4, National Signing Day.

"Have you got it yet?" Spurrier kept asking Shane Beamer, USC's recruiting coordinator. "Have you got it yet? Have you got it yet."

"It" was Alshon Jeffery's signature on a national letter of intent. A year earlier, Jeffery had committed to play football at Southern California. But Spurrier, and in particular Beamer, believed all along that the star receiver out of Calhoun County was theirs.

When the fax of Jeffery's letter of intent arrived, Spurrier and Beamer both recognized the magnitude of the signing. This state had produced USC products Sidney Rice and Kenny McKinley, but the Gamecocks watched helplessly as A.J. Green took his game to Georgia.

"I stood by that fax machine all morning," Beamer said. "I can assure you, when that fax came through, I knew we were going to have days like this once he got in and figured out what was going on and learned the system."

Beamer was speaking Saturday shortly after USC's 28-26 victory over Kentucky, a game that no doubt will be marked in the memories of Gamecock fans for years to come. It was the day a star was born. The big playmaker on offense that USC has sought from the start of the season was found.

Jeffery caught seven passes for 138 yards and three touchdowns. But the statistics tell only part of the story. They do not tell about the spectacular, one-handed touchdown grab Jeffery made in the second quarter or the third-quarter TD when Jeffery circled behind the Kentucky defender and snared a desperation heave from quarterback Stephen Garcia.

"I was thinking about it (in practice this week)," Jeffery said of the possibility of having a big day after catching only five passes for 61 yards and a touchdown in the season's first five games, "but I didn't know this was going to happen. That's what I came here for, to make big plays and to make a difference at South Carolina."

Jeffery out-jumped a South Carolina State defender to catch a 20-yard touchdown pass late in the game a week ago. Otherwise, USC fans had not seen what all the fuss was about over Jeffery.

For the thousands who stayed home to watch the game on TV, they will not be able to tell their children or grandchildren about seeing first-hand Jeffery's coming out party. And it was one that will be worth recounting for years to come.

Spurrier said earlier in the week that Jeffery had finally emerged in practice as the one receiver to go up among defenders and catch the ball. Because he did not participate in summer workouts at USC, Jeffery's learning curve was steep, and it took him until the season's sixth game to figure out the offense and proper routes.

Jeffery is 6-foot-3 and is a strong and athletic 217 pounds. Spurrier said Jeffery also is deceptively fast, the kind of receiver whose time in the 40-yard sprint in practice is 4.7 seconds, but is shaved to 4.3 when the ball is in the air and he is chasing it.

Beyond that, Jeffery showed Saturday that he has a nose for the ball. With that, he displayed the ability to make big plays, an element USC's offense so desperately needed. So dangerous was Jeffery that by the end of the third quarter Kentucky switched to two-deep coverage to take away throws to the receiver.

"I think the team was very excited about his play," Garcia said of his new favorite target. "He can only get better. He's a true freshman. I'm glad he'll be around here for the next three years. He's a tremendous playmaker and we needed that."

It is precisely why Beamer did not back off the recruiting of Jeffery, even though he had committed to Southern Cal.

"I'm not really big into, once a guy commits to another school to just continue to hammer him and try to change his mind," Beamer said. "But Alshon was a guy, I told him, 'Look, do you want me to keep recruiting you?' "

"He said, 'Yes,' so we just kept recruiting him, kept recruiting him."

Every week, Beamer called Jeffery, and the conversation was the same.

"Are we any closer to getting you? Are we helping our chances?" Beamer recalled asking Jeffery.

"Yes, sir," Jeffery replied.

"Are you any closer to de-committing and wanting to commit to South Carolina?"

"Yes, sir."

The final "yes, sir" from Jeffery came when he signed with USC in February. Eight months later he emerged as USC's next star.

Following Jeffery's third touchdown reception, quarterbacks coach G.A. Mangus said to Spurrier in his headset on the sideline: "Ole Southern Cal boys don't come to South Carolina for no average receiver. They knew the kid could play."

Now USC fans know it as well.

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Chris Culliver, Alshon Jeffery, Kenny Miles, Eric Norwood, Cliff Matthews and coaches Shane Beamer and Ellis Johnson comment after USC's win over Kentucky.

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Listen to Morris Tuesdays from 4-5 p.m. on ESPN Radio 93.1 FM.

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