Calhoun County coach Walt Wilson called Alshon Jeffery a couple of weeks ago to see how he was handling his role as a backup receiver at South Carolina.
After all, Jeffery was a two-sport star at Calhoun County and the object of an intense recruiting battle among Southern Cal, Tennessee and his home-state Gamecocks. The only time he spent on the sidelines in high school was to stop by the Gatorade cooler in between touchdowns.
"Are you busting your butt every day?" Wilson said he asked Jeffery.
"Sometimes," Jeffery replied.
"That's not going to work," Wilson told him.
Wilson encouraged Jeffery to pick up his intensity at practice and make the most of his chances during games. The results were on display this past weekend at Williams-Brice Stadium, where the 6-foot-3, 217-pound Jeffery pulled down three touchdown passes in a 28-26 win against Kentucky to earn SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
After sitting behind Tori Gurley early in the season, Jeffery is expected to make his first start Saturday at No. 2 Alabama.
Considering how well he played against Kentucky, some fans are wondering why it took until midseason for Jeffery's coming-out party.
"It takes a while," USC receivers coach Steve Spurrier Jr. said Wednesday. "Nobody comes in and plays as a freshman. It's hard to do. He's pretty talented, though."
"The coaches know what's best for the team," Jeffery said. "But it was just me trying to learn the system and trying to play fast."
Like many talented high school athletes, especially those from small schools, Jeffery could rely on his athletic ability to excel at Calhoun County. That's where he caught 14 touchdown passes as a senior and helped lead the Saints to four consecutive Class A titles in basketball.
"He could go 85 percent and still play here. You can't go 85 percent in college at that level and expect to play," Wilson said. "He had to turn it up another notch than high school. And that's just something he has to adjust to. I really think the light has come on, and you see the results."
Gamecocks coach Steve Spurrier has noticed a difference in the way Jeffery practices.
"He's practicing so much faster than earlier in the year. (Monday) night, he was flying around. He looked like one of our fast receivers out there, which is encouraging," Spurrier said. "He's improved. I think he'd tell you that. When you know where to go, then you can go faster."
Because he needed to finish his academic requirements to be eligible as a freshman, Jeffery missed a month of the strength and conditioning program before enrolling at USC in July.
He played sparingly the first five games as the Gamecocks stuck with Gurley, Moe Brown and Jason Barnes at receiver. But Jeffery caught a 20-yard touchdown from Reid McCollum near the end of the S.C. State game, and the coaching staff decided to utilize Jeffery on slant routes and fade patterns against a Kentucky secondary missing both its starting cornerbacks.
After entering the Kentucky game with five catches, Jeffery pulled down seven receptions for 138 yards against the Wildcats. He scored on a 10-yard slant and fades covering 28 and 22 yards.
When Brown noticed the Wildcats playing man coverage on USC's outside receivers early in the game, he came to the bench and told his teammates to take advantage of the one-on-one matchups.
"And I guess Alshon heard when I was talking to him, because he sure made a lot of plays," Brown said. "Some of the catches were just amazing, how he was able to position his body and adjust to balls. I just hope he continues to do this the rest of the season. It's definitely gonna help our offense."
Jeffery caught his second touchdown with one hand while falling down in the end zone. A YouTube clip of the play had been viewed 2,215 times as of Wednesday afternoon.
Wilson said he has four years of Jeffery highlights on the Calhoun County game videos.
"What the Gamecock Nation is seeing now is what I knew already. The catch he made Saturday, I've seen better," Wilson said. "I wasn't surprised. I was happy for the kid, but I wasn't surprised because the kid has a tremendous upside left. He's just getting started."
Jeffery's routes still need polish and he said he would like to improve his strength and speed. Spurrier Jr. said that will occur in time.
"He's going to get a lot stronger and faster. He'll learn how to run better," Spurrier Jr. said. "He's got a lot ahead of him learning how to play the game. But he's done awfully well."
Despite the fame he gained during the recruiting process, Jeffery remains what Wilson called a "quiet star." He is extremely confident in his abilities, but does not like talking about himself.
"I'm just going out and working hard," he said. "And whatever the play's called, if it's designed for me to get the ball, then I'm going to try to make a play."