When Jonathan Smith received a call from former Oregon State teammate T.J. Houshmandzadeh about a high school running back in the Los Angeles area, the Beavers’ first-year coach knew he had to follow up.
It’s a good thing he did.
That player was none other than Jermar Jefferson.
All the true freshman has done this season is burst on to the scene by rushing for two of the top four single-game performances in a Beavers’ uniform — in just five games.
Through six games, the 5-foot-10 back from Narbonne High in Harbor City, south of Los Angeles, has rushed for 865 yards — second in FBS — and 12 touchdowns on 129 attempts. He ran for 238 yards, the third-best single-game total at the time, and four touchdowns against Southern Utah in his second career game.
He surpassed that total with 254 yards against Arizona State in his second Pac-12 game.
Getting Jefferson to come to Oregon State may be turn out to be one of the biggest wins for Smith as he looks to rebuild the program.
It certainly wasn’t easy.
Smith said Jefferson’s mother, Tracy Green, has two degrees from USC and is a huge Trojans fan.
So with running backs coach Michael Pitre, defensive backs coach Greg Burns and offensive coordinator Brian Lindgren in tow, the Beavers pulled out all the stops to try to convince them Oregon State was the place for Jefferson to attend.
“We just kept pressing the vision on him, talking about the great backs we’ve had here before that have really come from outside of Oregon and we felt great about getting him,” Smith said a few weeks back.
Even with Jefferson committed, Smith and Co. had to wait out the last week as other options began to open up for him.
Pitre, who was coaching at Montana State before joining Smith’s staff at OSU, had Jefferson on his radar while with the Bobcats. He put Jefferson near the top of his list when he made the move to Corvallis.
“Watching his film and the things he was able to do against that competition definitely stood out,” Pitre said. “So we put the full-court press on him and did everything we could do to get him up here.”
Jefferson is on pace to not only break the school record for rushing yards by a freshman, but could surpass the Pac-12 mark if he stays healthy.
Jacquizz Rodgers holds the Oregon State mark with 1,253 yards in 2008, while Oregon’s LaMichael James amassed 1,546 to set the conference’s standard in 2009.
Jefferson has shown the ability to be patient and wait for a hole to open, or to quickly bounce it outside to elude a tackler. He has credited his teammates for making blocks down field.
Even with all the success, Jefferson has continued to work at getting better.
“He sent me a text two Saturdays ago and said, ‘coach, I want to practice better,’” Pitre said last week. “And I knew with him saying that his performances were going to continue to improve. He’s just a very hungry young man to get better.”
He has also remained humble, much like Pitre’s former teammate at UCLA, Maurice Jones-Drew.
Pitre says Jones-Drew always wanted to make sure he was passing the credit to his teammates and that his success was not anything that he was doing, but just making the most of his opportunities.
“That’s one thing I think Jermar understands,” Pitre said. “When we’re watching the film he sees what he could do better, but he’s also watching the other 10 guys that are executing, like man, look at that block by Trevon (Bradford) or look at Blake (Brandel) kicking that guy’s butt, or look at what (Kammy Delp’s) doing.”
While Jefferson had a solid fall camp, he got his break when starter Artavis Pierce injured his shoulder in the Southern Utah game. Pierce missed the next three games but did return last Saturday and carried eight times for 40 yards.
Having Pierce back and available will undoubtedly impact the number of carries Jefferson receives. But it could also keep him fresher during the long season.
“I’m into having a 1-2 punch in the backfield,” Smith said. “And when AP comes back I feel like we’ve really got that.”
Lindgren feels the same way.
“It would be nice to have both those guys fresh when they’re in there,” he said. “We’ve put a lot on Jermar, particularly as a freshman, with the workload and the number of carries he’s had.”
Having such a big role so early in his career could add to the pressure a player feels. But Jefferson has remained composed and has never felt overwhelmed on the field.
Pitre credits that to his preparation during the week.
“No matter how big the stage is, little it is, he just has the same demeanor about himself all the time,” Pitre said. “He loves football, he loves this team, he loves to win and he’s highly competitive. So just being able to bring that to the room and bring that to the team has been awesome.
“He just wants to get better every single day.”
Lindsey on roster
Nebraska receiver transfer Tyjon Lindsey is officially a member of the OSU football team.
Lindsey was a four-star recruit out of Corona, California.