Ellis Jefferson set some lofty goals entering his senior season at Guyer, and they were far from unreasonable.
Last season, Jefferson, a 6-foot-4, 200-pound wide receiver, posted 677 yards and five touchdowns as the No. 2 receiver behind current Stanford wideout Conner Crane, who put up more than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns in 12 games last year.
In 2010, Guyer had four Football Bowl Subdivision wideouts that Jefferson got to watch every day in practice as a sophomore, when he was called up to varsity for the playoffs and caught one pass, a 55-yarder at Cowboys Stadium.
So it seemed logical that Jefferson, who committed to Arizona State over the summer, wanted to have his own 1,000-yard season in 2012, a goal he is well short of reaching.
“There was some frustration for me, honestly,” Jefferson said. “Knowing that [Crane] was leaving, I thought I’d get the ball a lot. The way the ball rolled, [head coach John] Walsh wanted to hold back on it and that’s the way it is. I’m fine with it.”
Through 10 games this season — Jefferson missed the Wichita Falls game with a hamstring injury — he has 30 catches for 389 yards and five touchdowns. Sure, those seem like miniscule numbers, but they lead the team in all three categories.
“I think it’s a number of things,” Walsh said of why Jefferson hasn’t lived up to his own expectations. “One, there was a time early on when we weren’t efficient in any part of our passing game — protection, throwing the ball or running routes and catching it. We just weren’t efficient at that point. Second, we’ve been in command of so many games that throwing the football wasn’t really an option because we were just trying to run the clock out, and the third thing is, in some of our tight games, I’ve evaded the passing game too quick.”
And while Jefferson admits he has been frustrated at times with his exclusion from the game plan, Walsh never heard a peep.
“Never. That’s why I’ve been proud of him,” Walsh said. “Usually, with receivers, you get to pouting and asking what’s going on. It’s all been about winning. I pull him out with no catches in a game at halftime [in a blowout], and he’s smiling and coaching the other guys. He’s been the epitome of unselfishness.”
The lack of impressive statistics won’t hurt Jefferson’s college prospects with the Sun Devils.
“They understand that high school football is high school football,” Walsh said. “He’s gotten recruited for what he’s done on the field, but also what he showed live in front of their eyes. They see a big-bodied guy with good character that can catch and run. He passed the eyeball test.”
Finally, on Friday night, Jefferson got back to what he and his coaches knew he was capable of all along and was an integral part of a Guyer offensive attack that amassed 246 passing yards in a near-perfect run-pass balance as the Wildcats topped Saginaw 42-14 in the first round of the playoffs.
In that game, Jefferson caught a season-high eight passes for 73 yards and a touchdown just before halftime while continuously coming up with big third-down receptions and winning a one-on-one battle with Saginaw’s best cornerback.
“He’s such a humble person,” junior quarterback Jerrod Heard said. “He knows that he can still be a big-time player by blocking and getting highlights off of that. He knows his time is going to come, and he showed that against Saginaw.
“He just sparks [the offense]. A big target like that can get the first down whenever he wants. That’s a dangerous thing. Having someone like that is great for our offense.”
While Jefferson might have taken a back seat to Guyer’s punishing ground game that averages 290 yards on 36 carries this season, he is still a vital part of the offense.
In fact, Walsh said Jefferson is right up there with the best blocking wide receivers he has ever coached — up there with current Oklahoma State receiver Josh Stewart and Quint Gardener, who signed with Minnesota out of high school.
“He’s one of our hardest-working skill guys we’ve ever had,” Walsh said. “When you watch him from the start of a play — even in practice — all the plays he runs, he works extremely hard. He has a great competitive edge he takes to the field.”
Jefferson said he expects his increased role that was seen Friday night to continue throughout a playoff run he hopes will include five more games.
He said, and Walsh agreed, that maybe a reason for his lack of consistent production in the offense this year has been by design as there is not much film on him from this year for potential opponents to scout. To add to that notion, when Guyer scrimmaged Aledo prior to the season, Jefferson was sidelined by a hamstring injury.
With all that said, there is no secrecy coming from Walsh, who said he knows Jefferson will need to have a continued impact on offense for the Wildcats to be successful on Friday against the three-time defending state champions.
“You’re not going to line up on Aledo and just say, ‘We’re gonna run it 50 times and throw it 12 times.’” Walsh said. “There is absolutely no doubt he’s got to be going and him and Jerrod’s connection has to be a big part of us having success this week.”
ADAM BOEDEKER can be reached at 940-566-6872. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org .