FAYETTEVILLE — KJ Jefferson opted to return for the 2023 football season and immediately Sam Pittman landed one of his biggest recruits.
Chad Morris and his staff won a recruiting battle for Jefferson out of Sardis (Miss.) North Panola High School in the Class of 2019. He redshirted in 2019 under Morris, but has thrived since PIttman’s arrival at Arkansas.
He backed up Feleipe Franks in 2020, but has been the starter in 2021 and 2022. Arkansas has won 16 of the 24 games he has started the past two years including two bowl games. In those two years, Jefferson has completed 402 of 594 passes for 5,314 yards, 45 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Jefferson has rushed 304 times for 1,304 yards and 15 touchdowns in the past two seasons. Pittman likes what he has seen from Jefferson under Dan Enos this spring.
“KJ’s having fun,” Pittman said. “He’s getting better. Very confident. I think obviously KJ had a good spring. I think he’s really taken to Dan. That’s not saying anything about Kendal (Briles), I’m just talking about Dan. He’s taken to Dan, and Dan has done a nice job with him. Kendal did, too. I think he’s a more knowledgeable quarterback for the NFL simply because we’re in an NFL system. I think he’s playing with a lot of confidence.”
Jefferson agreed with Pittman that he’s having fun under Enos.
“It’s been fun,” Jefferson said. “Just being able to talk the same terminology, being on the same page, understanding what plays he’s going to call on certain downs and distances. Just being able to just go in there, we pick each other’s brain, just go in there, get on the board, talk about different plays or what he’s thinking on this play and stuff like that. It’s been really amazing and also just him as a coach, on the field coaching all the quarterbacks hard, very fundamental guy, technical guy, so we needed that. I’m just embracing each and every day with him.”
Jefferson talked about the terminology newness this spring after switching from Briles to Enos.
“It is,” Jefferson said. “From a whole different system, so the terminology is way different now than the past, so now just be able to just, from a quarterback standpoint, we’re re-Miking different things, changing protections, communicating, changing runs, communicating to the receivers and stuff like that. The terminology is more on an NFL-style basis now. Everybody is just speaking the same terminology now, so whenever we do make that step to go to the NFL it won’t be a foreign language to us.”
Jefferson talked about his and that of the offense’s growth since the first day of spring ball to Saturday’s final one and 15th.
“It was fun Day 1,” Jefferson said. “Everybody was nervous. I was nervous as well going in. It’s a new system and everything, so it was pretty fun. I looked at it, just went out there and had fun. The main thing in spring is you want to go out there and have fun, enjoy each other being able to be out there on the football field again.”
While Enos and Morgan Turner coaching tight ends are new on offense, the defense has three new coaches including coordinator Travis Williams. The only returning assistant on that side of the ball is Deke Adams and his defensive line was outstanding this spring. Under Williams, the Hogs will run a four-man front and more aggressive style of defense. They had 10 sacks on Saturday.
“I mean, our D-line, I mean, they’ve been like that the whole spring,” Jefferson said. “I mean, they just came out energized. I mean, it starts in the trenches. Each and every day, those guys battle. O-line and D-line, they battle each and every day. So having those guys on the defensive side of the ball with their energy and their fire each and every day is just going to make the whole O-line better and the D-line better. So I’m extremely proud of those guys, how they come in each and every day and work. They’re in a new system as well, so everybody’s just been embracing the system and then just overcoming adversity.”
Jefferson and the Hogs will open the season on Saturday, Sept. 2, in Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium when they take on Western Carolina. Arkansas is coming off a 7-6 season and Jefferson is anxious to see this team do big things this fall.
“We feel like we’re a new team because each and every day we come out and embrace each other as a brotherhood,” Jefferson said. “I mean, we became tighter than ever, everybody’s buying into the process, I mean, we’re trusting the coaches. So I mean, we’re just coming together, everybody’s coming together, buying in, no one’s complaining, no one’s trying to cut corners, take the easy way out. I mean, everybody’s working, coming in on off days, working, helping each other more.
“I would say that’s the big thing is everybody’s helping each other more. If somebody’s struggling, before the coaches even say something, a player’s already in his ear coaching him up. So things like that just translate over to just for the future, just knowing that we’re on the right path.”