Jefferson Ready to Compete for Starting Role

It probably shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone that Ellis Jefferson is off to a fast start this spring. As a true freshman last year, the Texas native was one of the early standouts in fall camp who figured to contend for significant playing time in 2013 before a groin injury ultimately forced him to redshirt. Now fully healthy, Jefferson is poised to make is presence known.

At 6-4 and 200 pounds, Ellis Jefferson is your prototypical physical wide receiver. Rated as the number 82 wide receiver by coming out of Guyer High School in Denton, Tex. in 2012, he's a fearless route runner who also possesses the ability to pick up additional yards after the catch.

Last fall, Jefferson leaped onto the scene during the first two weeks of fall camp as arguably Arizona State's top wide receiver while Jaelen Strong awaited clearance from the NCAA to begin practicing with the team. In fact, in just those two weeks, he was able to overtake then-senior Kevin Ozier on the depth chart with the first team offense.

But just as sudden as his arrival, things quickly came to a grinding halt for Jefferson as a groin injury forced him to sit out the rest of camp, relinquishing his hold on a starting position and forcing him to redshirt.

"I had high expectations to start as a true freshman," he said after practice earlier this week. "They told me I'd have the opportunity to play. I made sure I knew all my stuff, so when we camp to was ready to play but then I got hurt. It sucked."

At first, it appeared that all was not lost for Jefferson. His injury healed and the chance to play in 2013 was still a possibility for the talented freshman. But by then, Ozier, Strong, and Foster had emerged as the starting trio at wide receivers with a bevy of talented options to back them up, leaving Jefferson buried at the bottom of the depth chart.

"It was not immediate," said Jefferson on the decision to redshirt. " The first game, Coach Alexander told me I was going to go in, so I was ready. But I didn't go in that game. It sucked knowing I had to redshirt but now that I've done it, I know it just gave me the chance to learn the offense better and I'm still considered a freshman, so I'm happy now."

Happy and ready to compete, it appears.

Through the first week of practice, Jefferson once again has stood out as one of the bright spots at wide receiver for the Sun Devils. In a change from last season, the redshirt freshman has lined up behind Strong at the 9-receiver position rather than the 5-receiver role vacated by Ozier.

While it has again giving him another learning curve to master, Jefferson is enjoying the new opportunity for now.

"I feel good. I feel real good," he said. "I'm playing outside now. I was playing inside when I first got here but they've moved me outside behind Jaelen because they want me to learn that position too. They want me to learn the whole entire offense. I'm just expanding what I need to know and learning more about the defense, from the cornerbacks to the linebackers.

"I'm feeling very comfortable right now. I honestly like the position I'm in right now. I like it a lot. I like going against cornerbacks. Come the season though, I'll probably go back."

Of course, a new position is the only change Jefferson has made this offseason. He also reported to camp wearing the number 19, having ditched the previous number 80.

"Coming here, I wanted to be 19. That's my high school number," he said. "I just never really liked 80. There's some really good history with the number 80, but I'm just trying to create my own."

While Jefferson admits that sitting out last season after having such high hopes to start as a true freshman was a disappointment, the experience wasn't all bad for him. Aside from allowing his body another year to mature and develop, he also was able to learn from guys like Ozier and Strong, along with Wide Receivers Coach DelVaughn Alexander, to better prepare himself for the upcoming season.

"The thing I learned from Jaelen was to be aggressive," he said. "He's aggressive and that's something that the coaches are always trying to work on and he's been real good at it. And then Kevin, he was always teaching me. Him being a senior, even when I was in front of him, he'd teach me the things that I needed to improve on even though we were battling for the same position. So, I really respected that. He taught me a lot of great things.

"And then Coach Alexander, he always teaches me things to look out for with the defense. When I was on the sidelines, we'd be beside each other and he would tell me what the defense was about to run, so I really learned a lot."

Since the conclusion of last season, Jefferson has also spent the time trying to strengthen his rapport and on-field chemistry with his two quarterbacks, Taylor Kelly and Mike Bercovici. Throughout the team's recent winter workout program, the three, along with some of the other wide receivers, spent their free time working on route running and timing, helping set the stage for Jefferson's return to action.

"It's really good, actually," said Jefferson of his chemistry with the quarterbacks. "Before camp started, me and TK and Berco and some of the other guys would come out here and throw some. We developed a close relationship. I think I've got a real close relationship with Taylor since then and I know he's got high expectations for me."

While the wide receiver position is arguably the most talented group for the Sun Devils, Jefferson remains confident that he'll find the field in 2014.

"We've got a lot of good guys out there, but when (Jalen) Harvey and (Eric) Lauderdale come in, it's really going to add to our depth," he said. "I've got to show the coaches that I know what I'm doing so when it comes to fall camp, they'll trust me. And when those new guys come in, I'll already know what to do. I'm very excited for it.

"I want to start. I want to start somewhere - the nine, five, wherever. I just want to play somewhere and make touchdowns."

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