LSU’s roster is littered with some of the most highly sought-after high school prospects in the country.
Just about every position group has a depth chart full of four- and five-star recruits who could have essentially gone to any college of their choosing.
Justin Jefferson wasn’t one of them.
He was—and really, still is—a pretty unassuming looking guy on the field. Coming out of Destrehan High, Jefferson stood at roughly 6-foot-2 and 175-pounds, and he only had a handful of scholarship offers from schools like Nicholls State, Northwestern and Tulane.
Until LSU came along late in the process.
He was the final scholarship addition to the 2017 class and didn’t arrive on campus until August, just a few days after signing his Letter of Intent. But that hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the biggest surprises—and contributors—for the Tigers.
“It was a little tough at first,” says Jefferson, who was listed as the No. 76-ranked prospect in Louisiana, No. 308 among wide receivers and No. 2,164 nationally. “I was the small receiver. I came in late. Everybody thought I was a walk-on. I just had to come in and put in the work.”
Jefferson has since packed on about 20 pounds, thanks to the strict regimen implemented by strength and conditioning coach Tommy Moffitt. The junior receiver didn’t record a single catch his freshman season, although he did feature six times and take one end-around for 4 yards late in a game against Arkansas.
But 2018 was a new year. LSU was losing its top three pass catchers from the year before, and there was an open competition for someone to claim the top spot among the receivers.
Jefferson saw his opportunity and took it.
“Especially as a receiver, to come in after Jarvis [Landry] and Odell [Beckham Jr.], you have to have a high standard of trying to be better than those type of guys,” Jefferson says of his fellow Louisiana natives. “I didn’t expect to have a year like I did. I just wanted to come in and make plays.”
Jefferson did just that, ultimately leading the team in just about every statistical category for a receiver as a sophomore.
His 54 catches and 875 yards were the most recorded by an LSU receiver since those days of Landry and Beckham back in 2013.
He also tallied a team-high six touchdowns on a 16.2 yards-per-catch average, with a long of 65 yards.
“Me and Jets [Jefferson’s nickname] came in every Saturday when I first got here,” says quarterback Joe Burrow. “We were working every Saturday at
9 a.m. He was working really hard, and when someone puts that kind of effort in, you can usually see it on the field in the fall.”
Jefferson’s success shouldn’t come as a big surprise.
Photos by Chris Parent / Courtesy LSU Athletics
It falls right in line with his older siblings, who came through LSU before him and earned starting roles at their respective positions.
Jordan was first, playing in 42 games at quarterback in his Tiger career, including 10 during the 2011 season when LSU went undefeated before falling to Alabama in the National Championship.
Rickey arrived on campus just a couple years later and worked his way to a starting safety role, anchoring the defensive secondary with his four years of experience in Baton Rouge.
“Having two older brothers before me and being able to watch them and [learn from them] really helped my experience and the way I look at the game,” Justin says.
“I kind of had that advantage coming into college because as a young kid growing up watching them, I’m seeing the different routes [they were] running. I just put that toward my game and could go off of that.”
Justin says he initially felt some pressure to perform at LSU since he was following in his brothers’ footsteps. But once he realized he had created his own name and path as a receiver, all those thoughts went away.
It also helps that as the youngest Jefferson, Justin was very much used to competition with bigger, stronger, older opponents growing up.
“It was definitely tough growing up in that house, because all of us were athletic and strong and so competitive,” Justin laughs.
“We always got in fights. This is how it went: Jordan would beat up on Rickey. Rickey would beat up on me. It was definitely a crazy experience growing up with those people in the house.”
This article was originally published in the August 2019 issue of 225 Magazine.
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