Although Jeff was selected three times as All-State in football, he knew there would be challenges on the college level. "The biggest challenge everyone says is speed, and I think that is a given, coming to the next level no matter what," said Samardzija. "So that's something you just have to adjust to, but definitely it's the complexity of everything with the system. You are running on offense and then special teams and different techniques. Everything is mixed up and has a little different twist to it that you've got to adapt to."
Samardzija says he's making the adjustment to college football. His numbers aren't overwhelming so far but he does have seven catches for 53 yards in four games and has been on the field a quite a bit. "It just takes time and it is actually starting to click now so everything is starting to go real well." When asked if he was surprised by the quickness and overall talent of the defensive backs at this level, Jeff responded, "You do expect it but you don't know how to react to it when you first see it. You've got to expect it's going to be different. You've got to expect at the next level it's going to be different but you can't really practice for that sort of thing when you're off by yourself back in your hometown. You definitely have to experience it. You just get better with experience and that comes day-in and day-out with practicing with your Notre Dame defensive backs because they're some of the best in the nation as it is. It does help to get out there against Notre Dame's number one defense and work with them everyday."
Many young players come into fall practice with lofty goals that often are not met. Jeff was asked how many goals he had set for fall practice and how many of these has he met so far. "I just kind of kept my goals, and you know you always got to shoot 'em high. So I decided to come in and just keep a couple of broad goals. I didn't really sit down and have like 20 different goals I wanted to accomplish; that's hard to do just coming in as a freshman, not really knowing what to expect. I just came out saying I wanted to give it all I had every day in practice, just trying to earn a spot. Just going with almost a blank mind and not thinking anything, just going all out every day and just hopefully earning some playing time. And then if you do get some of that playing time, and then when you're out on the field, you use every time like its maybe even your last snap, like you're a fifth-year senior. I just go out there and do what I can to help the team get a win."
First-year players often come in to fall camp with high expectations of getting playing time early in the season. Jeff has been on the field in all three games both as a receiver and on special teams. Samardzija said he didn't know what to expect when he reported in August. "Well, you know, you can't go in and expect anything so I'm going to start off by saying no. But on the other hand, you've got to think that you are going to get that playing time because you've always got to be ready for it. Your number could be called any time. So you always got to be ready for it but you just can't take anything for granted."
Even though Jeff has made good contributions to the team effort in the first three games, he realizes there are areas he needs to work on. "You can't just settle for anything. All areas are something you need to improve on--little techniques, different body movements and stuff that will get you into the better position to make your play even a little bit easier. A lot of times right now, you tend to make it harder on yourself by getting into the wrong spot or the wrong position or getting your feet in the wrong position. So its just little things like that with blocking routes, and then there are always little things you can just touch up in your overall game."
A receiver has to feel comfortable on the field regardless of who the quarterback happens to be at the time. You might think a freshman receiver would have a closer bond with a freshman quarterback, rather than a veteran quarterback. Samardzija says he comfortable with all the quarterbacks. "It's not like I came out here and the first couple days of camp the freshmen are off by ourselves, just catching balls from Brady. I mean from day one, we were catching balls here and there from Brady (Quinn), Carlyle (Holiday), Pat (Dillingham)--everyone was getting in the mix, and you were catching balls from everyone. You still do today. You do have a big bond with all of them. It's really close with everyone and you really know a lot about each of the guys whether they're on the field or off the field. They always know what's going on and you always know how they're feeling with different situations on the field. It's definitely something you work with and it comes with time. It's always there - it was there with the quarterback I had in high school, it clicked there. It's just something you have as a receiver and a quarterback."
Jeff Samardzija has already made a big impact on the field in 2003. He should have an even bigger impact on the team in the future. Samardzija is yet another freshman making an impact in what appears to be a very talented freshman class.