It’s not often that a college quarterback goes silent on the media during a season.
It’s even more rare that a senior quarterback, who helped steer an SEC program to 13-0 and a berth in the national championship, is able to simultaneously steer clear of all reporters and news cameras.
Such was the case for LSU senior Jordan Jefferson, who spoke to the media on Tuesday for only the third time since being suspended from the team following his arrest on second-degree battery on Aug. 26, which stemmed from an altercation at a Baton Rouge bar that Jefferson and other Tigers were involved in on Aug. 19.
After Tuesday’s practice, Jefferson stepped out of the locker room and talked for nearly 25 minutes about the roller coaster ride that became his final year in purple and gold.
For starters, Jefferson explained his absence from newspapers columns and television spots.
“It’s a situation that doesn’t happen to a college football player often,” he said. “It’s a terrible situation for anybody to go through. At the time I was focused on getting the position back and finding ways to contribute to this team.
“My main focus was football, instead of answering questions about that situation. It was something I was trying to put behind me and move forward and handle my business as far as football.”
The charges were eventually reduced to simple battery, the difference between a misdemeanor and a felony.
As quick as LSU coach Les Miles let Jefferson go after the arrest warrant was issued, the new verdict meant No. 9 was back with the team.
“(Miles) had confidence in what I was telling him and how things happened,” Jefferson said. “Once I told him something, that’s what he stuck with the whole time.
“He was doing the best he could to get be back as soon as possible. I thank him for that. He’s been faithful and loyal to me, so I have to be the same to him.”
At the end of his legal battle, Jefferson had missed the first four games of the season, which made fellow senior Jarrett Lee the starter.
But after Jefferson stepped in for Lee and scored the first touchdown in the conference opener against Kentucky on Oct. 1, it was evident that Miles didn’t intend on shutting out his expected starter for long.
Jefferson’s playing time increased gradually over the month of October, and by the time Lee had thrown two interceptions in the first half against Alabama on Nov. 5, Jefferson was back in his spot as the go-to quarterback for the Tigers.
Reflecting on conversations with Miles throughout the season, Jefferson said the move back into the starting role didn’t come as a surprise.
“Les Miles has always been a straight shooter towards me,” Jefferson said. “I knew he would handle the situation correctly, and he did. He had to do what he had to do. As far as me not playing or getting a few reps this game or starting this game, I think he handled the situation correctly.
“He did a great job with it. You can’t make a dramatic change like that. You have to gradually make changes, and that is what happened.”
Now that Jefferson has – again - supplanted Lee as the starter, the fan base likely has two questions.
1) What did Jefferson learn from his trip to hell and back?
2) How can he help the Tigers beat Alabama?
For starters, Jefferson considers himself a changed man.
When asked how often he reflected on the fight and subsequent fallout, Jefferson made it seem like not a day went by without it dominating his thoughts.
“I thought about it a lot,” Jefferson said. “It’s something that I worked at to get back to this position. I had to do a lot of hours after practice and before practice. I had to do a lot to be in the position I am today. I am fortunate to be back starting and playing in the national championship game.”
For Jefferson, one of the toughest parts of the suspension was sitting on a couch back in Baton Rouge while the Tigers battle through three road games without him.
“I went to the stadium when they played Northwestern, and I was watching it in the locker,” Jefferson said. “All the others were on the road, so I watched it with some non-travel players. It definitely was frustrating. I knew I should have been out there playing those games.
“But at the same time I had to stay positive and cheer the team on and sit there and watch, then pray they win every game until I get back.”
Jefferson said he is at peace with the process, from his bout with the legal process to the reaction from the fans.
“There’s no bitterness,” Jefferson said. “I am back with my team and back with the coaches that I love. I am playing the game that I love. There is really no bitterness. We are playing in the national championship game, so it’s all good in my book.
“Everything is back in order and back where it needs to be. I got my life back, really. That’s why there is some peace.”
Jefferson heads into the BCS National Championship with three bowl starts under his belt, but make no mistake that going home to New Orleans for a shot at the crystal ball marks the former Destrehan High star’s most important postseason test to date.
After Jefferson finished with 110 total yards in a second-half push in Tuscaloosa that helped the Tigers stay perfect, can he harness the same effort this time around – when the Tide know Jefferson is coming from start to finish.
“There are a lot of things I can do that will show in the game,” Jefferson said. “You get more involved in the game plan, and a lot of plays are installed in the game plan around your talents.
“It does open up a lot. We are doing a lot of different things to help that option work. Alabama is really going to be keying on that, so we have to figure out different ways to keep the drive going.”
When Jefferson goes to the passing game, he will have to find an answer to why the Tide were able to check junior Rueben Randle for two catches for 19 yards on Nov. 5.
“We have to find ways to get him the ball,” Jefferson said. “That’s the main objective. (Alabama) doubled him. They put a corner on him in press and played a safety over the top. They tried to take Rueben out of the passing game, so it was hard to feed him the ball.
“Once I got the pre-snap read and saw the safety cheating to his side, then there was no chance that he was going to get the ball.”
Back in the saddle and leading the Tigers into his hometown, it seems all has lined up for Jefferson to leave LSU by making the biggest splash a college quarterback could make.
And it is evident Jefferson, in his roller coaster swan song, sees it coming.
“This game is more important than any bowl game I have played in,” he said. “My performance is going to have to be excellent for us to win this game.
“It’s definitely a Cinderella story. We knew it would happen like this before the season, and we did what it took week by week to get to the national championship in New Orleans. Once we win it, it will be a great feeling for me.”