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OPINION | WALLY HALL: Arkansas QB continues growth as a leader

by Wally Hall | July 21, 2022 at 2:23 a.m.

ATLANTA -- Comfortable was the word that came to mind.

KJ Jefferson was facing dozens of media types, and while he wasn't totally relaxed, he wasn't tense.

His answers came easily, and he was quick to flash his smile.

Like when he was asked what time he got up Wednesday to be in Atlanta by 8 a.m. for SEC Football Media Days.

"3:50," he said quickly with a grin that turned into a grimace when he was asked what time he normally got up. "7:30," he said

Jefferson and teammates Bumper Pool and Jalen Catalon accompanied Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman to Atlanta for the yearly event that has been labeled the 'Talking Time," part of the season.

Jefferson didn't dodge any questions, even when asked about skipping the Manning Passing Academy that is by invite only.

"Groin injury," he said.

Speculation was that he wanted to stay on the Arkansas campus and continue to work with the receivers who know the pressure on them with the loss of Treylon Burks.

It started with Jefferson and one receiver, then it was three receivers, and now it is all the receivers, the tight ends and the running backs.

"We tell the janitor to leave the lights on," he said.

They meet after dinner, on weekends and on off days.

Throwing and catching. Getting their timing right. Knowing each other.

Sophomore receiver Ketron Jackson has been a pleasant surprise running great patterns, but Jefferson couldn't say enough about Malik Hornsby.

Hornsby is listed as a quarterback and was the backup last season, but Pittman and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles want the speedy sophomore on the field.

In the spring, he lined up as a receiver on some plays. A couple of times he streaked by the defensive backs and Jefferson hit him in the hands.

"At first, I didn't know if he could catch the ball," Jefferson said with a laugh, "but he can."

Pittman said Hornsby, who looked very thin last season, was up to 190 pounds, a gain of at least 10 pounds, but it is muscle and he's lost none of his speed.

"We've got to find ways to get him on the field, he's a playmaker," Pittman said.

Jefferson agreed.

"I like having another quarterback on the field," he said. "Opponents have no idea if he is going to get the snap or make a catch."

Pittman did say that there would still be competition at the quarterback spot next month when the Razorbacks report, but if Jefferson wins the job, Hornsby will still be playing somewhere.

It seems a foregone conclusion that Jefferson is the leader going into fall ball.

He's tightened up his 6-3, 242-pound body in the weight room.

In leading Arkansas to a 9-4 season -- their best since 2011 -- Jefferson completed 198 of 294 passes (67.3%) for 2,676 yards and 21 touchdowns with only 4 interceptions.

The dual-threat quarterback was also the team's leading rusher gaining 644 yards, although the Razorbacks had Trelon Smith, Raheim Sanders and Dominique Johnson rush for more than 500 yards each.

There is an obvious difference in Jefferson from last year to Wednesday.

He's more confident and poised, but that was a work in progress all season.

In the first half of the season opener against Rice, he was 2-of-5 passing for 14 yards and had an interception.

In the second half, he was 10 of 16 for 114 yards and a touchdown, and it was like he never looked back. He was named MVP of the Outback Bowl.

Now, the more mature Jefferson is ready for more growth, and that started this summer when he asked the janitor to leave the lights on so he and his teammates could work out on their own.

Print Headline: Arkansas QB continues growth as a leader


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