The State’s Pro Athlete of the Year: Alshon Jeffery

The word is out: Former Gamecocks receiver is building bragging rights in Chicago with his acrobatic catches — not that you’d hear it from him

dcloninger@thestate.comDecember 24, 2013 

Chicago Bears wide receiver Alshon Jeffery celebrates his touchdown during the third quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at Mall of America Field on Dec. 1.

BRACE HEMMELGARN — USA TODAY Sports

  • ALSHON JEFFERY BIO

    Pos.: Wide receiver

    Hgt./Wgt: 6-3/216

    Team: Chicago Bears (2nd round in 2012)

    College: South Carolina

    Born: Feb 14, 1990, in St. Matthews

    2013 Stats

    Rec.: 86

    Yds.: 1,341

    TDs: 7

    Career Stats

    Rec.: 110

    Yds.: 1,708

    TDs: 10

  • PAST WINNERS

    The State’s previous S.C. Professional Athletes of the Year:

    2004: Jay Haas, golfer

    2005: George Hincappie, cyclist

    2006: Kevin Slowey, pitcher

    2007: Paul Williams, boxer

    2008: Bob Bowman, swimming coach

    2009: Lucas Glover, golfer

    2010: Dustin Johnson, golfer

    2011: Bill Haas, golfer

    2012: Tommy Gainey, golfer

The famously non-talkative Alshon Jeffery approached a recent interview with “The Dan Patrick Show” like he always has — short yes-or-no answers, not revealing too much detail about what’s really going on.

It’s just as well. Jeffery always preferred to let his talking be heard on the field. Now that Chicago has figured out what kind of weapon it has in the second-year receiver, Jeffery is speaking and the NFL is listening.

With one game to play in the regular season, Jeffery ranks sixth in the league with 1,341 yards on 86 catches. He has scored seven touchdowns, combining with Brandon Marshall to become one of the most lethal receiver tandems in the NFL. If the Bears beat Green Bay on Sunday, Chicago will be the NFC North champion and head to the playoffs.

Even if the Bears sit home, Jeffery has done more than enough to earn The State’s 2013 Professional Athlete of the Year award. After a rookie season filled with injuries and not much production, Jeffery showed up for this season in the best shape of his life, and mimicked how he exploded onto the scene at South Carolina in 2009.

Jeffery, said by past and present teammates to be a fun-loving and gregarious guy, always kept it low-key when speaking to the media. That’s something that’s been with him since he signed with the Gamecocks out of Calhoun County High and something that has carried to the NFL.

The Bears declined to answer repeated interview requests for this story, for Jeffery, his teammates or his coaches. Jeffery, at least, probably would have answered as he did on the Patrick show, saying that the Pro Bowl and other honors would be merely OK.

“I’m not really big on that,” he said. “If it happens, it happens.”

Jeffery didn’t even take the bait when asked about the most infamous statement attached to his name. When Jeffery switched his commitment from Southern Cal to USC, also choosing the Gamecocks over Tennessee, then-Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin told him that if he went to South Carolina, he’d end up pumping gas like all the other in-state players who chose to stay home.

Kiffin was fired from Southern Cal in September, about a week before Jeffery shot into consciousness with a then-franchise record 218 receiving yards. Jeffery declined to talk to Patrick about the comment, like he has since it happened, and insisted that he had moved on.

Which he certainly has.

At USC, the freshman Jeffery’s appearances and production on the field were sparse until Oct. 10, 2009. Jeffery gave Kentucky’s secondary nightmares with 138 yards and three touchdowns, the last two a leaping one-handed haul and then a fade route where he ran nearly a complete circle around the frustrated defender, dropping to his knees to catch the ball. That day spawned a stretch of brilliance where Jeffery couldn’t be stopped.

The last play of his magnificent career was catching a halftime desperation pass against Nebraska in the Capital One Bowl, and having the presence of mind to immediately turn and dive across the goal line. He departed for the NFL as a junior and the only man to break 3,000 receiving yards at USC — but found out that pro success would have to wait.

Jeffery sat six games last season with injuries and caught 24 passes (half of his targets) for 367 yards and three touchdowns. But after re-dedicating himself, losing the baby fat that had plagued him, he began to show up.

That game on Oct. 6 showed what he could do. On Dec. 1, he broke his record with 249 yards against the Vikings, leaping above cornerback Chris Cook to snare a high pass, then landing, somehow keeping his feet in-bounds and stumbling into the end zone.

“He’s coming into his own,” tailback Matt Forte told Brad Biggs of The Chicago Tribune. “Alshon is doing what he’s supposed to do. He’s out there making plays and catching deep balls and being that downfield threat, and also jumping over guys.”

Providing a safety net for quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Josh McCown, Jeffery is brushing aside the praise for the team, like he always has. Setting the goal of making the Pro Bowl as a rookie, Jeffery was disappointed. This year, with teammates such as Marshall lobbying for him, he may get it.

One more leaping catch, so superhuman to the rest of the crowd but another day in the office to Jeffery, and the ballot could be cast.

“That’s what I did,” Jeffery told Patrick. “Make a play.”

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