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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Jefferson primed for happy homecoming

by Wally Hall | October 7, 2021 at 2:28 a.m.

Matt Corral seems to be the big storyline for this week's showdown between the University of Arkansas and Ole Miss.

Our man Bob Holt had a great story on him Wednesday and how successful the Rebels quarterback has been except for last year's game when the Razorbacks intercepted him six times.

Corral, who is one of the early frontrunners for the Heisman Trophy, set career records the first time he started against Arkansas in 2019. He completed 16 of 24 passes for 246 yards in a 31-7 win.

Corral, a fiery competitor from California, played at two different high schools, transferring to Long Beach Polytechnic after a reported altercation with Wayne Gretzky's son.

He originally committed to Southern Cal but switched to Ole Miss.

The 6-2, 205-pounder is often animated during games, and he is a leader head coach Lane Kiffin believes in. Despite the six interceptions he stayed in the game last season.

Yet, there's an underlying story in this game.

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson is a native Mississippian.

He grew up in Sardis, just 37 miles from the Ole Miss campus.

Most people driving south on Interstate 55 to attend Saturday's game will pass the Sardis exit, the last one before turning on to Mississippi 278 East to Oxford.

Jefferson is a beloved son in Sardis.

In four years at Panola High, he completed 502 of 894 passes for 9,654 yards and 119 touchdowns.

The 6-3, 240-pound Jefferson also ran for 2,922 yards and 24 touchdowns. He also caught one touchdown pass.

Most of his home town celebrated when he was recruited by the Rebels.

Except they didn't want him as a quarterback. Maybe a linebacker or tight end. Anything but quarterback.

They weren't the only ones. Several other SEC schools, including Georgia, offered him a scholarship but not to play quarterback.

A 4-star recruit who was rated the fourth best dual-threat in the country believed he was a quarterback.

Two years ago, the editor of the county newspaper in Sardis sat next to your trusty scribe in Oxford. He spent most of the time talking about Jefferson and how athletic he is and how he hurdled tacklers in high school.

Jefferson does have deceptive speed.

Not like Matt Jones who ran faster than a 4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine.

Jones was 6-7, and his stride at full speed was close to 5 feet, which made it look like he wasn't as fast as he really was.

Jefferson has some of that. Several times he has broke free at the line of scrimmage with a linebacker or safety on his tail, but he wasn't tackled until 30 yards later.

He seldom shows emotion. He's a natural, but quiet leader, doing most of his talking on the field.

Yet, when the cameras zoomed in on him in AT&T Stadium, and his face was huge, you could see the fierce determination in his eyes.

That's why he insisted on returning to the Texas A&M game after straining a knee and missing three possessions.

He's a very large part of why the Razorbacks won their first four games, and even though he didn't have a great game against Georgia's incredible defense -- who does? -- he was fearless.

One can only wonder if there isn't a little extra burn in his heart for this game.

Yet, it won't be a showdown of quarterbacks but of the line of scrimmage.

Arkansas beat Texas and Texas A&M by controlling the line of scrimmage through pure physical force.

The Razorbacks are not a finesse team. To win they have to win the battles in the trenches.

When Arkansas and Ole Miss meet anything can happen. It should be a fun game to watch.

Print Headline: Jefferson primed for happy homecoming

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